Rumen Microbes are More Important than Originally Thought

Since the early 1900s, the rumen and its resident microbes have been investigated for its role in nutrient digestion and health to increase animal performance and efficiency. Recent findings from the human microbiome suggest that our gut microbes play a far more important role than we thought earlier. These studies show that the gut bacterial communities play an important role in obesity, nutrition, and human health. Like in humans, the gastrointestinal tract microbes in ruminants are critical to the animal’s health and performance. In ruminants the role of the rumen and gastrointestinal tract microbes are critical to the animal’s performance as these microbes provide the animal with approximately 70% of it’s nutritional needs in the form of volatile fatty acids and microbial cell protein.

There is a delicate balance between the ruminant animal and its microbial flora. Changes in this delicate balance can cause metabolic disorders leading to decreased nutrient availability preventing the animal from reaching its genetic potential, causing huge economic losses in the agricultural industry. Thus, it is imperative to study the microbial populations that resides within the rumen to understand what roles microbes play to mediate the balance between health and disease and to find new ways to increase animal performance. Understanding this host-microbe relationship will provide opportunities to make effective management decisions to improve animal health and productivity and to manipulate the microbial ecosystem to increase animal nutrition.

To better understand the rumen microbial community, research conducted in the Fernando lab at UNL are using culture independent molecular techniques as less than1% of the organisms in the rumen are amenable to in-vitro culture. To this end, the Fernando lab is using high throughput next generation sequencing methods to study meta-genomes, meta-transcriptomes and metabolic end products of ruminants to provide insight into how microbial populations help mediate ruminant health and nutrition. This cutting-edge research in meta-functional genomics will compliment the current, strong applied ruminant nutrition research program conducted by  Dr. Paul Kononoff to provide a new dimension to ruminant nutrition to improve animal health, nutrition and well-being. By merging applied and basic research to investigate the rumen microbial community Drs. Fernando and Kononoff are investigating, microbial species composition and activity in the dairy cow under different dietary conditions to determine how dietary intervention can be used to reduce methane emission in ruminants, and how microbial communities can be manipulated to increase nutrient availability to the host and increase milk yield and milk composition. Additionally, they are also looking at the role of microbes in metabolic disorders and pathogen colonization to identify indicator species for early detection and control.

This research will lead to the identification of dietary factors and microbial species that could be used as prebiotics and probiotics to increase the health and productivity of dairy cattle as well as a factor in reducing methane emissions.

The Nebraska Environmental trust and the Nebraska Corn Board fund current research relating to dairy cattle in Drs. Fernando and Kononoff labs.