University of Illinois Researchers Investigate Turtle Microbiome

Shoreview, Minn. [January 30, 2017] – Mazuri® recently awarded a $10,000 grant to veterinary medicine researchers at the University of Illinois. The research project selected for 2017 is focused on characterizing the microbiome of red-eared slider turtles.

The Mazuri® Research Grant is given annually to individuals doing innovative work to advance the understanding of exotic animals. “The more we learn about these incredible animals, the better we can care for them,” says Dr. Troy Tollefson, Nutritionist, Research and Development at Mazuri®.

Tollefson explains that choosing the grant winner was no easy task given the quality of applications received.

“We have an outside committee that selects the winner each year,” says Tollefson. “The individuals that serve on the committee work within higher education and the zoo industry. The panel scores the applications while looking for novel research that identifies a knowledge gap.”

At the University of Illinois, Dr. Matt Allender, DVM, and second-year veterinary student Irini Lamkin recognized that understanding all aspects of the impact diet has on reptile health is a top priority.

“To have the opportunity to evaluate what effect turtle diets have on the intestinal microbiome is going to allow the whole industry to promote better turtle health,” says Dr. Allender.

“Not to mention, the author on this project with me is a second-year veterinary student,” Dr. Allender continues. “It’s spectacular to have a veterinary student receive a grant to advance their own education. This award will set Irini up for a successful career, that combines both clinical and research experience into bettering the overall health of animals.”

Turtles have become increasingly popular in households over the past 15 years and are currently the most common reptilian pet1. Metabolic diseases that are associated with an incomplete diet are one of the most common ailments that veterinarians see in clinics.

In recent times, researchers have found that nutrition is more than just the ingredients that make up a diet. The intestinal microbiome is the sidekick that aids in digestion for mammals and reptiles alike.

“The microbiome is a collection of good bacteria, fungi and yeast that inhabit the intestinal tract,” explains Dr. Allender. “This helps digestion while breaking down proteins, fats and producing vitamins that are integral for maintaining intestinal health. Furthermore, these microbes play a role in keeping out bad microbes. A healthy microbiome maintains a healthy gut, and subsequently, a healthy body.”

“There is a lack of knowledge about the gastrointestinal microbiome of turtles, and even about their species in general,” adds Tollefson. “This year’s chosen grant winner helps to fill that void.”

The nutrition knowledge gained from controlled studies directly translates to zoos and aquariums around the world. In turn, new information about reptile nutrition and digestion helps keep pet turtles in homes around the world happy and healthy.

“Studies like this have a large impact,” Tollefson says. “Studies like this one appear in peer-reviewed journals and the researchers present at conferences. People from zoos and aquariums that attend such conferences are always looking to absorb the latest discoveries.”

“We are grateful for all of those that submitted applications,” says Tollefson. “Research projects such as these will open new doors of knowledge in the reptile community.”

To learn more about Mazuri®’s commitment to exotic animal research, visit

Mazuri® is a world leader in quality nutrition for virtually every living exotic animal. Mazuri® diets are manufactured with the highest quality ingredients and the latest technology in private, company-owned manufacturing facilities. Mazuri® supports ongoing research and conservation through grants and sponsorships with other animal experts. Since 1989, professionals, veterinarians, breeders and exotic animal owners have trusted their animals to Mazuri®.

1“US pet ownership and demographic sourcebook.” American Veterinary Medical Association. 18 January 2017.