Mesquite is tested to combat parasites in cattle and increase their productivity

Experts are conducting a study to reduce parasite loads of Haemonchus contortus in sheep and goats. This parasite affects practically all grazing herds. The aim is also to reduce the use of drugs.

Mesquite is tested to combat parasites in cattle and increase their productivity
Trial of mesquite to fight parasites in cattle and further increase their productivity. Image: UNAM

It has been proven that mesquite is almost 100 percent effective as a deworming agent in sheep and goats, according to research carried out by academics from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Zootechnics (FMVZ) of the UNAM. The in vitro studies show that extracts made from the pods of this tree are used to control the parasite Haemonchus contortus, which is multi-resistant to various drugs and affects practically all herds of sheep and goats.

"In the Nutrition Laboratory we have done in vitro trials with artificial infections and the good news is that these results were about 95, 97 percent effective. We hope to advance to the next stage which is the in vivo work and the pharmacology part, the biotransformation of mesquite into probable pharmaceutical forms," said Cintli Martinez Ortiz de Montellano, a specialist in Integrated Parasite Management.

Mesquite grows in semi-arid and arid areas of Mexico and has been used for years as a protein supplement for animals; that is, to nourish them, so the deworming agent could also be a nutraceutical (food product). Claudia Márquez Mota, Ph.D. in Biochemical Sciences, explained: "We are interested not only in making an extract but also in knowing what compounds are there, to attribute to them the capacity to control these parasites".

Plant-herbivore relationship

Augusto Lizarazo Chaparro, PhD in Biological and Health Sciences, explained that colleagues from the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo (UAEH) and the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) also participate in this research. Together with the UAEH, they are working on characterizing mesquite in depth. So far, more is known about the nutritional characteristics of this tree. "We know that mesquite can have seven to 22 percent of crude protein and up to 75 percent of carbohydrates, but its antiparasitic use is still in the process of being investigated and that is what we want to advance in," he said.

These studies include the parasitic part and also measuring the beneficial effects of the extract on animal nutrition, as a nutraceutical.

"The idea is that in the in vivo experiments we evaluate the different doses of mesquite in pharmaceutical or traditional forms and to be able to establish what is the optimal level to have an adequate response from the animal. That is to say, we analyze the antiparasitic effect and also the productive part, evaluating the adequate growth of the lambs," added the academic from the Center for Practical Teaching and Research in Animal Production and Health, in Topilejo.

In turn, Cintli Martínez Ortiz de Montellano indicated that their objective is not to eliminate 100 percent of the parasite, but to promote resistance and resilience by controlling the agent, in addition to having optimum production levels, since goats and sheep are continuously infected during grazing.

The idea is to resume this practice that animals have in the wild of consuming plants to self-medicate. "The problem is that in the production systems we have, we enclose them in a corral, paddock, or certain pasture with non-endemic species, so they do not select these plants, but the interaction between plant and herbivore has always been there," said the university professor.

She pointed out that practically 100 percent of the grazing herd is infected with gastrointestinal nematodes (worms), and 80 to 90 percent has Haemonchus contortus. "It is of high morbidity, but low mortality," hence the importance of studying how to control them.

Microbiota and methane

Claudia Márquez Mota explained that in a second stage, the goal is to analyze the role that mesquite has in the regulation of the microbiota of animals because due to the number of bioactive compounds that this tree contains, there is the hypothesis that it helps to have a healthy microbiota and better control of parasites.

"Everything goes hand in hand: if we have a well-nourished animal, with good quality food or insufficient quantity with these secondary metabolites, we will have a healthier animal, without the need to resort to so many drugs". Likewise, we will try to evaluate if mesquite helps the animals to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases such as methane.

This research has also served to train human resources at different levels, since the specialists have students who will obtain their bachelor's and master's degrees based on their contributions to characterize mesquite extracts, among other aspects.