Both sampling seasonality and geographic origin contribute significantly to variations in raw milk microbiota, but sampling seasonality is the more determining factor

J Dairy Sci. 2021 Oct;104(10):10609-10627. doi: 10.3168/jds.2021-20480. Epub 2021 Jul 10.


Accurately profiling and characterizing factors shaping raw milk microbiota would provide practical information for detecting microbial contamination and unusual changes in milk. The current work was an observational study aiming to profile the microbiota of raw milk collected across wide geographic regions in China in different seasons and to investigate the contribution of geographical, seasonal, and environmental factors in shaping the raw milk microbiota. A total of 355 raw cow milk samples from healthy Holsteins and 41 environmental samples (farm soil and surface of milking room floor) were collected from 5 dairy farms in 5 Chinese provinces (namely, Daqing in Heilongjiang province, Jiaozuo in Henan province, Qingyuan in Guangdong province, Suqian in Jiangsu province, and Yinchuan in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region) in January, May, and September 2018. The microbial communities in raw milk and farm environmental samples were determined using the PacBio small-molecule real-time circular consensus sequencing, which generated high-fidelity microbiota profiles based on full-length 16S rRNA genes; such technology was advantageous in producing accurate species-level information. Our results showed that both seasonality and sampling region were significant factors influencing the milk microbiota; however, the raw milk microbiota was highly diverse according to seasonality, and sampling region was the less determining factor. The wide variation in raw milk microbial communities between samples made it difficult to define a representative species-level core milk microbiota. Nevertheless, 3 most universal milk-associated species were identified: Lactococcus lactis, Enhydrobacter aerosaccus, and Acinetobacter lwoffii, which were consistently detected in 99%, 95%, and 94% of all analyzed milk samples, respectively (n = 355). The top taxa accounting for the overall seasonal microbiota variation were Bacillus (Bacillus cereus, Bacillus flexus, Bacillus safensis), Lactococcus (Lactococcus lactis, Lactococcus piscium, Lactococcus raffinolactis), Lactobacillus (Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii), Lactiplantibacillus plantarum, Streptococcus agalactiae, Enhydrobacter aerosaccus, Pseudomonas fragi, and Psychrobacter cibarius. Unlike the milk microbiota, the environmental microbiota did not exhibit obvious pattern of seasonal or geographic variation. However, this study was limited by the relatively low number and types of environmental samples, making it statistically not meaningful to perform further correlation analysis between the milk and environmental microbiota. Nevertheless, this study generated novel information on raw milk microbiota across wide geographic regions of China and found that seasonality was more significant in shaping the raw milk microbiota compared with geographic origin.

Keywords: Holstein; dairy farm; geographical origin; raw cow milk; seasonality.

Publication types

  • Observational Study, Veterinary

MeSH terms

  • Acinetobacter
  • Animals
  • Bacillus
  • Cattle
  • Female
  • Food Microbiology
  • Lactococcus
  • Microbiota*
  • Milk*
  • Psychrobacter
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Rhodospirillales


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S

Supplementary concepts

  • Acinetobacter lwoffii
  • Bacillus flexus
  • Bacillus safensis
  • Enhydrobacter aerosaccus
  • Lactococcus piscium
  • Lactococcus raffinolactis
  • Psychrobacter cibarius