Useful microbes in equine guts

Taxonomic and functional diversity of microbes in equine manure, including fungi

Degree type


Closing date

29 October 2021



Citizenship requirement

Domestic/International Onshore

About the research project

The equine hindgut shares some similarities with both ruminants and monogastric animals. Like the ruminants, the caecal and colonic contents combine, but horses have only a single stomach and, unlike a ruminant, horses do not regurgitate digesta for further mastication or have a complex forestomach to aid in the digestion of plant carbohydrates and proteins. Horses are highly dependent on their gut microbiota for nutrition since these provide glycoside hydrolases and polysaccharide lyases to enable the digestion of the complex polysaccharides which make up the bulk of their carbohydrate intake. The gut microbes convert “difficult” substrates such as cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin into useful nutrients like short-chain fatty acids through the process of fermentation. The equine hindgut is estimated to contain 107 to 1011 bacterial cells/mL and 104 fungal cells/mL, and both groups of microorganisms play an important role in digestion of plant material, with overlapping functionality. This project will develop methodologies for taxonomic and functional profiling of microbes in equine manure. The developed methodologies will include both molecular and large-scale culture-based phenotypic screening. The developed methodologies will be applied for the characterisation of equine manure populations and will seek to overlay functional and taxonomic diversity.  A key focus for the project will be an improved understanding of the intersectional functionality of fungal and bacterial species contributing to the production of short-chain fatty acids that meet equine nutrition requirements. While the proposed research will have potential biotechnological (value adding by breakdown of complex polysaccharides in plant waste material), to useful compounds that could be used in fermentations and to equine health/nutrition outcomes, the proposed PhD research will focus on development of methods as strategic basic research leading to commercially exploitable outcomes.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Prof Tom Ross


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $28,597 per annum (2021 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.


The project is open to domestic (Australian and New Zealand) and international applicants who are already in Australia (onshore) at the time of submitting their application.

Due to current Australian COVID-19 travel restrictions the University cannot accept applications from international applicants who are currently overseas.

Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements .

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Honours Degree in Microbiology
  • Previous experience in the culture and phenotypic characterisation of microbes, including fungi from the various environments

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • First Class Honours Degree in Microbiology
  • Previous experience in molecular biology
  • Previous experience in the identification, culture and maintenance of fungi
  • Previous experience in industrial microbiology and/or microbial ecology

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select the project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, Prof Tom Ross, if you have any questions about the project; and
  3. Click here to submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including 2 x referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email.

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