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Addressing global ruminant agricultural challenges through understanding the rumen microbiome: past, present, and future

Taking advantage of the functioning of the rumen microbiome to reduce methane emissions from ruminants has been explored by researchers for several years. The success is still limited mostly due to the lack of a detailed understanding of this microbiome but the work in progress is promising.

Bovine rumen bacteria, seen by electronic microscope. © INRA, GAILLARD-MARTINIE Brigitte
Updated on 05/14/2019
Published on 04/25/2019

The rumen is a complex ecosystem composed of anaerobic bacteria, protozoa, fungi, methanogenic archaea and phages. These microbes interact closely to break down plant material that cannot be digested by humans, whilst providing metabolic energy to the host and, in the case of archaea, producing methane. Consequently, ruminants produce meat and milk, which are rich in high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals, and therefore contribute to food security.
As the world population is predicted to reach approximately 9.7 billion by 2050, an increase in ruminant production to satisfy global protein demand is necessary, despite limited land availability, and whilst ensuring that the environmental impact is minimized. Although challenging, these goals can be met, but depend on our understanding of the rumen microbiome.

  • Attempts to manipulate the rumen microbiome to benefit global agricultural challenges have been ongoing for decades with limited success, mostly due to the lack of a detailed understanding of this microbiome and our limited ability to culture most of these microbes outside the rumen. The potential to manipulate the rumen microbiome and meet global livestock challenges through animal breeding and introduction of dietary interventions during early life have recently emerged as promising new technologies.
  • Our inability to phenotype ruminants in a high-throughput manner has also hampered progress, although the recent increase in “omic” data may allow further development of mathematical models and rumen microbial gene biomarkers as proxies.
  • Advances in computational tools, high-throughput sequencing technologies and cultivation-independent “omics” approaches continue to revolutionize our understanding of the rumen microbiome.

This will ultimately provide the knowledge framework needed to solve current and future ruminant livestock challenges.

Scientific contact(s):

Associated Division(s):
Animal Physiology and Livestock Systems
Associated Centre(s):


Huws, S.A.; Creevey, C.J.; Oyama, L.B.; Mizrahi, I.; Denman, S.E.;Popova, M.;Munoz-Tamayo, R.; Forano, E.; Waters, S.M.; Hess, M.; Tapio, I.; Smidt, H.; Krizsan, S.J.; Yanez-Ruiz, D.R.; Belanche, A.; Guan, L.; Gruninger, R.J.; McAllister, T.A.; Newbold, C.J.; Roehe, R.; Dewhurst, R.J.; Snelling, T.J.; Watson, M.; Suen, G.; Hart, E.H.; Kingston-Smith, A.H.; Scollan, N.D.; Prado, R.M.; Pilau, E.J.; Mantovani, H.C.; Attwood, G.T.; Edwards, J.E.; McEwan, N.R.; Morrisson, S.; Mayorga, O.L.; Elliott, C.;Morgavi, D.P., 2018. Addressing Global Ruminant Agricultural Challenges Through Understanding the Rumen Microbiome: Past, Present, and Future. Frontiers in Microbiology, 9: 33. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.02161