Cow Gut DNA Study Finds Bugs that Could Up Meat and Milk Yields

Professor Rainer Roehe says the study could improve yields as well as cattle health.
Professor Rainer Roehe says the study could improve yields as well as cattle health.
( (SRUC))

Cutting-edge DNA technologies have discovered thousands of bugs in cows’ stomachs that could improve meat and dairy production, and keep cattle healthy.

The findings build the clearest picture yet of how the microbes in a cow’s rumen - the first of its four stomachs - help cattle to digest, and extract energy from, their food.

Researchers from SRUC, the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and the Rowett Institute at the University of Aberdeen analysed the rumen contents of hundreds of cows and discovered thousands of bacteria, as well as archaea – a separate group of single-celled organism.

Pinpointing which microbes are essential for livestock wellbeing and food production could inform future breeding programmes.

These microbes enable cattle, and other ruminants, to convert plants and low-value products that humans cannot eat into food with high nutritional value, such as meat, milk and cheese.

The microscopic organisms provide cattle with nutrients and energy, contribute to the animals' health and, as a bi-product, release methane which is a concern for global warming.

The latest research follows on from a study by the same team last year, in which DNA data from 42 cows was analysed. Until this study, the diverse mix of bacteria and archaea that live in the rumen was poorly understood. Scientists had been unable to link DNA analysis to food digestion, animal health and greenhouse gas emissions.

The team used the latest DNA technologies, including a handheld sequencing device that can quickly generate DNA data that is incredibly long and detailed. This allowed the researchers to completely sequence the genomes, from beginning to end, of several new bacterial species.

They studied samples from 283 cows, identified almost 5,000 new strains of microbe and more than 2,000 novel species - microbes that previously no-one knew existed.

Hundreds of thousands of novel enzymes, whose instructions are encoded in the DNA, may have potential uses as biofuels, or in the biotechnology industries. By analysing their genetic information, the team pinpointed previously unknown enzymes that can extract energy and nutrition from plant material.

The study is published in the journal, Nature Biotechnology.

Rainer Roehe, Professor of Animal Genetics and Microbiome at SRUC, said: “We’ve identified some 5,000 novel genomes of microbial species in the rumen that all play a vital role. Not only do they enhance breeding and nutrition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cattle, they also improve production efficiency, product quality and animal health.”

Professor Mick Watson, Head of Genetics and Genomics at The Roslin Institute, said: “The cow rumen is a gift that keeps on giving. We were surprised by how many completely new microbes we have discovered, which is far more than in our previous study. The findings will inform studies of cow health and meat and dairy production for many years to come.”

For more on the cattle microbiome and the role of microbes in animal health, see these articles from BovineVetOnline:

Dissecting the Microbiome

Nursing Could Benefit Microbiome, Vaccine Response

USDA Funds Study of Plant and Animal Phenomics and Microbiomes

Encourage the “Good Bugs”


Latest News

Is Grass-Fed Beef Healthier or Better for the Environment?

Oklahoma State University meat scientist Gretchen Mafi has studied the scientific differences between beef that comes from animals finished on a grain diet versus those animals finished on grass.

How To Give a Calf Electrolytes, The Dehydration Lifeline

Electrolytes can serve as a needed boost for a scouring calf. Here's a look at what’s in electrolyte products, how much electrolytes should be given and a few ways and tips on how to give electrolytes to a calf.

Colostrum Management A Cornerstone For Dairy Calf Health

Dairies have made great strides in managing colostrum, but about 14% of calves fail to get passive transfer of antibodies. There is still opportunity to improve upon this, encourages Sandra Godden, DVM.

Be Prepared, Wheat Pasture Bloat on the Rise

As growing conditions improve on wheat pastures that have been grazed short all winter long, the threat of bloat rises. Here's how to combat the onset of bloat in grazing calves.

Cows Will Tell You What is Wrong with a Facility Design

As we transition the cows into a new facility, take time to watch the cows' usage of the facility. Cow behavior in the facility will indicate what may need to be adjusted.

What Does the Drought of 2022 Mean for Lactating Pairs in the Spring of 2023?

While some parts of the U.S. remain in drought conditions and the soil moisture profile is in a deficit due to months of below normal precipitation, grass growth will likely be impacted this spring.