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Endurance: the horse's microbiota enters the race

INRAE @ C. Robert
The science of microbiota is not limited to humans. It applies to many animals, including endurance horses. Although their microbiota influences their athletic abilities, its genetic composition and variability are not known. This is why researchers from INRAE, in collaboration with the Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire d'Alfort (EnvA), have compiled an exhaustive catalog of the genes of the gut microbiota in endurance horses. These innovative results, published on October 3 in the journal Nature Communication, provide valuable knowledge for advancing towards personalized animal nutrition.

Just like us, horses have an intestinal microbiota. In the horse athlete, its effect on energy metabolism has already been proven. Several studies show the influence of the diversity of the microbiota in different situations: foal weaning, endurance exercise, stress of the horse in the box compared to the pasture.

However, researchers lack a full understanding of the interactions between the microorganisms that make up the horse's intestinal flora and the host organism in order to understand all the subtleties of their influence.

This is why researchers from INRAE, in collaboration with EnVA, have established a true catalog of the genes of all the microorganisms that make up the intestinal microbiota. To do this, they analyzed the intestinal microbiota of 11 endurance horses, and found more than 25 million different genes belonging to 4696 different genera of bacteria.

These millions of genes are like a puzzle that they had to assemble by bioinformatics. The scientists assembled 329 new complete bacterial genomes.

Mathematical models were used to cross-reference these new data with physiological, cardiac and blood analyses of horses undergoing exercise. The result is clear: there is a link between the composition of the microbiota and cardiovascular fitness during racing, with a diverse microbiota having a beneficial effect. Horses with a less diverse microbiota, especially rich in bacteria of the genus Lachnospiraceae, recover less well after endurance exercise.

A new path is opening up towards an even more individualized animal diet, to promote the well-being of horses and their health, and naturally facilitate their potential for sporting performance. This could be achieved through better adapted nutritional intakes and the rational use of probiotics.

What is a diverse microbiota ?
The intestinal microbiota is composed of billions of microorganisms. But they are not all identical to each other, several species cohabit. And even within each species, variations exist. To evaluate this diversity, researchers study the genetic composition of the microbiota and characterize it using statistical measurements. In general, the diversity of the gut microbiota is favorable for the host, and a sign of good health. When a pathogenic microbial genus develops too much compared to the general population, the host may suffer, for example from intestinal disorders.


See also

Núria Mach, Cédric Midoux, Sébastien Leclercq, Samuel Pennarun, Laurence Le Moyec, Olivier Rué, Céline Robert, Guillaume Sallé, Eric Barrey (2022). Mining the equine gut metagenome: poorly-characterized taxa associated with cardiovascular fitness in endurance athletes. Communications Biology, 5,,, OA

Press release INRAE