Vultures survive toxic diet with bacterial help

From ABC News in Science, 26 November 2014:

Vultures manage to survive exposure to a host of nasty bacteria by keeping their own team of gut bacteria that outcompete even the most deadly pathogens, new research shows.

The study of the gut microbiome of New World vultures, published today in Nature Communication, reveals a remarkably simple collection of stomach flora that helps protect vultures from their own unsavoury food choices.

“It’s evident that vultures are dipping their heads into all kinds of nasty stuff, and especially the microbiology is really, really horrific,” says co-author Professor Lars Hansen, professor in molecular microbial ecology at Aarhus University, Denmark.

“The vultures eat mainly roadkill from the roads in US and this roadkill, especially the armadillos, have been shown to be carriers of both anthrax and leprosy so one of the questions was, first of all how can they stand this and are they also spreading these bacterial pathogens around.”

Researchers from Denmark and the United States looked at the bacterial populations on the facial skin and in the large intestine of the two most widespread species of vultures: the black vulture Coragyps atratus and the turkey vulture Cathartes aura.

They found the bacterial community inside vulture guts is dominated by two species—Clostridia and Fusobacteria—both of which are known to cause either severe food poisoning (Clostridia) or promote colon cancer (Fusobacteria) in humans. Read more.

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