News Agriculture, Climate

Scientists identify set of heritable core rumen microbes that are potential targets for creating solutions toward sustainable and environmentally friendly livestock production.

An international research team, headed by Prof. Emeritus John Wallace from University of Aberdeen and Prof. Itzhak Mizrahi from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, has identified a heritable set of core rumen microbiome that makes significant contributions to dairy cow phenotypes for productivity and emissions. These microbes are therefore primary targets for manipulation by breeding or modification by early-life colonization to provide sustainable solutions to increase efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ruminant livestock.

“Our findings are a major breakthrough for basic science and will have a positive impact on two major challenges facing the international community for the foreseeable future: climate change and food security”, says Prof. Mizrahi.

The data, collected by the EU project RuminOmics, covered 1016 cows (816 Holstein, 200 Nordic Red) from four European countries, Finland, Sweden, Italy and the United Kingdom. One hundred Finnish cows were monitored in Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) at Jokioinen by a team led by the late Professor Kevin Shingfield and Professor Johanna Vilkki, including researchers Ali R. Bayat and Ilma Tapio.

“Finnish cows visited the respiratory chambers at the experimental farm, where they were monitored for feed efficiency, methane emissions, energy metabolism and performance, and sampled for analysis of rumen microbiome composition”, says Johanna Vilkki.

The results pave the way to microbiome-led breeding programs for selecting beneficial microbiome compositions or improving the rumen microbiome composition by inoculating core species during rumen development.

Photo: Olga Pihlman

“We at Luke have been influencing early life rumen microbiome establishment in dairy calves by giving them rumen microbial inoculum from an adult animal with desired feed efficiency traits. Preliminary results show that rumen microbial community in calves “matures” earlier, and now we are monitoring the effects on phenotypes until adulthood”, says researcher Ilma Tapio.

The researchers believe that although the study focused on two dairy cattle breeds, the results are likely to be applicable to beef animals and other ruminant species.

According to professor Johanna Vilkki, genomics methods can be used to study microbes of oxygen-free rumen.

“Given the high importance of diet in performance and the composition of the rumen microbiome, such programs should take special cognizance of likely feeding regimes. Within that context, following the overall predictive impact of identified trait-associated heritable microbes on production indices should result in a more efficient and more environmentally friendly ruminant livestock industry,” the study concluded.

See also