Our recently published study examines the connection between specific heritable microbes and the efficiency of ruminants at producing energy from their feed. Ruminants host a unique and obligatory relationship with their microbiome, in which their ability to digest certain feeds relies completely on the presence of specific microbes. This connection has been first established in another study of our group (ISME, May 2016, Sheerli Kruger Ben Shabat et al.). This extraordinary alliance raises questions regarding the connection between ruminants’ genetics and physiology and their microbial structure. To further examine this connection, the physiological phenotypes of 47 dairy cows were characterized in this study and related to their microbial composition.
Twenty-two different microbes (defined as OTUs- operational taxonomic units) were shown to relate in their abundance to various rumen metabolic traits and showed measurable heritability. Specifically, certain microbes influenced the energy-harvesting efficiency, which was measured by the cow’s feed intake and its methane emission. These OTUs shared higher phylogenetic similarity between themselves than expected by chance, suggesting occupation of a specific ecological niche within the rumen ecosystem.
As dairy cows are extensively farmed for their poducts, they have a great impact on our environment. Microbial manipulation can increase the cow’s productivity, thus reducing its methane emission and increasing available arable lands.
Heritable Bovine Rumen Bacteria Are Phylogenetically Related and Correlated with the Cow’s Capacity To Harvest Energy from Its Feed
mBio, May 2017, Goor Sasson et al.