Biofilm and their role in udder health
Biofilms have been present on earth for around 3.4 billion years and are the most successful and widely distributed form of life on earth (Westall et al. 2001). Microbes’ ability to build biofilm has been acquired through billions of years of evolutionary adaptation, take a central role in microbial evolution and adaptation and make them unique. The survival and existence of a wide range of microorganisms is due to biofilm formation, which is a microbial defence mechanism that ‘shields’ bacteria from their (hostile) environment, such as the immune system, traditional methods and chemicals. Biofilm causes resistance to regular and traditional methods, making these methods less and less effective with adverse effects on animal health. We would like to tell you more about how biofilm formation affects animal health and, in particular how they pose a challenge to udder health in particular.
Biofilms can colonise a large variety of biological or non-biological surfaces (Hall-Stoodley et al., 2004). The ideal biological conditions for bacteria to be successful include enough nutrients, humidity, and a suitable temperature. Thus, animals are a perfect host for bacterial colonisation and biofilm formation, which can be potentially harmful for the animal. It was not until the 1990’s that biofilms were investigated in relation to persistent or re-occurring health challenges (Melchior et al. 2006). According to the National Institute of Health we know nowadays that approximately 80% of the microbial challenges have a biofilm related ethology (NIH, 2002).
Dairy cattle face health challenges within their udder, caused mainly by microorganisms. The ability of bacteria to produce biofilms is considered an important virulent property in the pathogenesis (FELIPE, et al., 2017). Knowledge about biofilm and ways to interfere with the mechanisms of how bacteria work together and build biofilms will enable the next generation of animal health solutions. These new solutions will allow a more proactive approach when it comes to dealing with udder health problems.
The formation of biofilm
Biofilms are clusters of microbes enclosed in a self-produced matrix, like a protective layer. They appear in a 3D microbial structure and vary widely in shape and size. There is not a single type of biofilm, they depend on the type of microbe in combination with influences from the environment. Biofilm-associated bacteria show an innate resistance to traditional methods, disinfectants, and the animal’s immune system. Bacteria in biofilm are 100-1000 times less susceptible to traditional methods compared to free floating bacteria of the same strain (Donlan, 2000). This bacterial survival, through the formation of biofilm, is responsible for resistance and often the root cause of recurring (udder) health challenges.
Biofilm can be formed within 24 hours after attachment of bacteria to the udder epithelium. Bacteria form when the host is weak: during low energy and/or a challenging situation resulting in a compromised immune system. This happens during e.g. after calving, during heat challenges or after drying off. There are five main steps for the formation and spreading of biofilms (see Figure 1). After the attachment phase, the bacteria will start to form a (mono)layer and produce a polymeric matrix layer for protection. In the last stage, when a host lacks energy and/or is challenged again, ie when their immune system in compromised, some cells or parts of the mature biofilm start to detach and disperse into the environment as planktonic (or free-floating) cells again. They can then start to form a new cycle of biofilm formation elsewhere in the animal (Guzmán-Soto et al., 2021). Once bacteria break out of the biofilm, the immune system of the host can see them and will be activated. This will result in an influx of immune cells in the udder, visible in the milk. The immune cells may be successful in removing the free-floating bacteria, and milk values (immune cells) will come down again. Alternatively, the immune system keeps sending new cells into the udder to help fight the bacteria and udder health challenges will become visible to the farmer. The farmer may decide to use traditional methods, which only remove free bacteria and actually send ‘surviving’ bacteria back into the biofilm and trigger them to build more biofilm. This will result in more and more biofilm build up in the udder of a cow over her life time. During challenging periods, the bacteria within the biofilm can launch an attack on the cow, resulting in increased milk values or recurring udder health challenges.
Figure 1: Schematic representation for single bacterial species biofilm formation on a solid surface (AHV International, based on Guzmán-Soto et al., 2021)
Location of biofilm formation
Outer and inner surfaces of animals are ideal hosts for microbial colonisation. Microbes face different environmental challenges when entering the body, which threaten their odds of survival and reduce their chances of successful colonisation. Biofilm formation is a survival strategy to withstand these challenges to ensure the bacteria survive. Research has shown that biofilm production is an important mechanism used by unfavourable bacteria in causing udder health challenges (Gomes et al., 2016). The presence of biofilms in mammary glands results in a decreased probability of success of traditional methods when trying to tackle arising challenges, as traditional methods can’t penetrate the biofilm.
Factors involved in the development and persistence of udder health challenges
Udder health challenges and biofilm formation can go unnoticed for a substantial period of time, as long as an animal has enough energy and is comfortable (ie not challenged). Biofilm formation can start in heifers and will often go unnoticed until they have calved: a challenging time with negative energy balance resulting in a compromised immune system. The presence of biofilm can be the start of future (udder) health challenges and needs to be addressed timely, preferably preventatively.
Serious udder health challenges will affect animal health and welfare, and results in decreased milk production, increased health care costs, higher culling rates and in the worst case, death (Melchior et al. 2006). The financial implications are significant, and much effort is needed to get ahead of udder health challenges, with mediocre results. This is largely due the bacteria becoming resistant. Especially persistent challenges are difficult to tackle which hinders eradication. Age, parity, stage of lactation and position in the affected quarter also play a role in the success rate (Sol et al., 1997). Lactating cows are more challenging and show lower success rates. That also applies to older cows or cows with high SCC counts. Persistent udder health challenges are often labelled as extremely difficult to resolve (Sol et al., 2000).
How to support cows during udder health challenges?
For an increased chances of success, AHV developed the AHV Udder Health Program, new and unique animal health solutions targeting ‘quenching’ of communication and collaboration of bacteria to form and hide in biofilm. To keep cows’ udder as healthy as possible, it is important to monitor the animal, preferably using (milk) data that provides additional insights. Key is to have a proactive attitude in keeping the animals healthy and in production. The longer the udder remains healthy, the more the animals and the farmer will benefit. The AHV Udder Health Program is highly successful due to its patent pending AHV QSA Technology, which directly targets the biofilm formed in the udder by breaking it down and inactivating the unfavourable bacteria, which allows the cow’s immune system to tackle the challenge at the source!
The AHV Udder Health Program
The AHV Udder Health Program identifies four categories*:
* Categories and attentions are based on (monthly) Herd Test data
Our research shows that for a significant improvement, the somatic cell count is irrelevant. On average, almost 85% (see table) of the groups in which we recommend (UDR – L & P) administering the AHV udder solutions (AHV Quick, Extra, Aspi boluses) show a positive result at the next Herd Test. In the youngest animals, we even see a positive result in 9 out of 10 cows. More importantly, the recurrence of serious udder health challenges is significantly reduced. Basically until new bacteria come into the udder and start producing biofilm again. This is why after ‘cleaning up’ udders, it is recommended to keep using the proactive AHV Udder Health plan to keep udders clean.
- UDR – C: A healthy udder
- UDR – L: Maximum. 2 issues regarding udder health in the last 18 months: indicative of the presence of a small amount of biofilm
- UDR – P: Maximum. 3 issues regarding udder health in the last 18 months: indicative of the presence of a medium amount of biofilm.
- UDR – R: More than 3 issues in the last 18 months: indicative of the presence of a lot of biofilm
|UDR Category||*Success %||Number of administrations|
|UDR – L||89.2||251|
|UDR – P||77.6||1502|
|UDR – R||57.8||1926|
What are the benefits of optimal udder health?
Animals that are healthy, produce optimally and require less intervention, resulting in these animals staying the herd longer. For the dairy farmer, this means a higher, and better-quality milk yield, and an overall healthier herd with higher production numbers over time. Underperforming animals are the main reason for replacement by younger, and therefore lower producing animals. Milk production and milk quality not meeting specific standards have a negative economic impact on a farm’s revenue. The importance of timely intervention is therefore essential to keep livestock healthy and to maintain a healthy financial situation.
At AHV, we learn more about biofilm every day
Biofilm formation is considered a selective advantage for unfavourable bacteria causing udder health challenges, facilitating bacterial persistence in the udder. Deeper knowledge of biofilm in relation to udder health challenges can help determine the most effective strategy to address these challenges in order to reduce losses and to ensure milk safety and quality. Therefore, at AHV, we are constantly investigating in our own research facility how to make our products even more effective.
- Westall, F., de Wit, M. J., Dann, J., van der Gaast, S., de Ronde, C. E., & Gerneke, D. (2001). Early Archean fossil bacteria and biofilms in hydrothermally-influenced sediments from the Barberton greenstone belt, South Africa. Precambrian Research, 106(1-2), 93-116.
- Melchior, M. B., Vaarkamp, H., & Fink-Gremmels, J. (2006). Biofilms: a role in recurrent mastitis infections?. The Veterinary Journal, 171(3), 398-407.
- Hall-Stoodley, L., Costerton, J. W., & Stoodley, P. (2004). Bacterial biofilms: from the natural environment to infectious diseases. Nature reviews microbiology, 2(2), 95-108.
- Donlan, R. M. (2000). Role of biofilms in antimicrobial resistance. ASAIO journal, 46(6), S47-S52.
- Gomes, F., Saavedra, M. J., & Henriques, M. (2016). Bovine mastitis disease/pathogenicity: evidence of the potential role of microbial biofilms. FEMS Pathogens and Disease, 74(3), ftw006.
- Sol, J., Sampimon, O. C., Snoep, J. J., & Schukken, Y. H. (1997). Factors associated with bacteriological cure during lactation after therapy for subclinical mastitis caused by Staphylococcus aureus. Journal of dairy science, 80(11), 2803-2808.
- Owens, W. E., Nickerson, S. C., Boddie, R. L., Tomita, G. M., & Ray, C. H. (2001). Prevalence of mastitis in dairy heifers and effectiveness of antibiotic therapy. Journal of Dairy Science, 84(4), 814-817.
- Sol, J., Sampimon, O. C., Barkema, H. W., & Schukken, Y. H. (2000). Factors associated with cure after therapy of clinical mastitis caused by Staphylococcus aureus. Journal of dairy science, 83(2), 278-284.
- Parrilli, E., Tutino, M. L., & Marino, G. (2022). Biofilm as an adaptation strategy to extreme conditions. Rendiconti Lincei. Scienze Fisiche e Naturali, 1-10.
AHV (Animal Health Vision) is the global leader in quorum sensing-powered animal health solutions and advisory services, giving #PowerToTheFarmer to optimise their animal health. Since opening in New Zealand February 2022, AHV has tailored a range of protocols to New Zealand farming challenges to power herd longevity, productivity and profitability. Reach out to your local Territory Manager or call AHV New Zealand at 0800 424 869 to learn more about how AHV can support your farm.
Proactive udder health support
Below we show the protocol we recommend for optimal udder health. Clicking on the picture will show more information about our proactive AHV Udder Health plan. However, we always recommend using the products in a program for optimal results.
14 days before calving
1 week after calving
1 week after calving
1 week after calving
4-8 weeks before dry-off
4-8 weeks before dry-off
Get in touch!
Would you like to be visited by an Territory Manager to discuss the health challenges on your farm together? Our AHV Territory Manager will be happy to visit you to jointly assess the health of your cows and come up with appropriate farm-specific advice.
NZ – Get in touch
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