December 16, 2019

Morgan Maly (North Carolina State University)

Investigating the Link among Diet, the Gut Microbiome, and Gastrointestinal Health in the Endangered Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

Fall 2019 Graduate Student Award in Pathogenic and Commensal Organisms

Our diet affects the microbes living in our gut, which in turn affects overall health. A shift in our gut microbes might cause us to feel sick or lead to gastrointestinal (GI) diseases like irritable bowel disease. Humans need a balanced diet to keep our gut microbes happy and to stay healthy. Cheetahs need the same, but little is known about the gut microbes of the world’s fastest land mammal. We know cheetahs are strict carnivores that hunt a variety of prey in the wild. In zoos, most cheetahs are fed a diet of ground raw meat. Zoo diets lack difficult-to-digest components (fur, tendons, feathers, bone) that wild cheetahs consume. How does this small but important dietary discrepancy affect the cheetah gut microbiome? These non-digestible components act as a dietary animal fiber source, which may positively impact digestion and gut health. Cheetahs in zoos suffer from GI-related diseases like gastritis at a much higher rate than wild cheetahs. We believe this is partially due to the animal fiber differences in their diets. Our goal is to study the impact diet has on the cheetah gut microbiome and how these factors may influence cheetah GI-health.

Public talks:

Darwin Days at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (2021). Is your cheetah getting enough fiber? Using the science of poop to help endangered animals.