The gut microbiome may influence post-prandial nitrogen handling in an elasmobranch, the Pacific spiny dogfish (Squalus suckleyi)
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Nitrogen recycling through the gut microbiome is an important mechanism used throughout vertebrates to reclaim valuable nitrogen trapped in urea. Evidence suggests it may be especially important in nitrogen limited animals, yet little is known about its role in marine elasmobranchs, which are said to be severely nitrogen limited. In the present study we used antibiotics to deplete the gut microbiome of Pacific spiny dogfish and assessed the role of the microbiome in nitrogen handling in both fed and fasted states. In fed animals, antibiotic treatment eliminated the activity of the microbial enzyme urease and reduced cellulase activity by 78%. This reduction in microbial enzyme activity resulted in significantly lower plasma urea levels which then trended upward as urea excretion rates decreased. Ammonia excretion rates were also significantly lower in antibiotic treated fish compared to the control fed. Finally, antibiotic treated fed individuals lost an average of 7.4% of their body mass while the fed controls lost only 1.8% of their body mass. Nitrogen handling in fasted animals was not significantly impacted by a reduction in microbial activity. These results suggest that compromising the gut microbiome significantly influences post-prandial nitrogen handling in spiny dogfish, and that the recycling of urea‑nitrogen may be vital to maintaining nitrogen balance in these fish.
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