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Production of milk and beef could be increased by changing microorganisms in cow’s stomach

Posted March 1, 2018

Cows are basically factories for us. They intake fuel (grass) and burn it in a complex process to produce energy, which later is transformed into products for our consumption. Some air pollution is released along the way. If we could increase the efficiency of this process, we could improve the production. But how? Scientists from University of Edinburgh and Scotland’s Rural College say that microbes are the answer.

If we could improve the way cows convert food into energy, we could produce more milk and meat. Image credit: Sakurai Midori via Wikimedia(CC BY 3.0)

Meat and milk production could be significantly improved if we helped cows to transform feed into energy more efficiently. Microbes that participate in the digestion process could be the way scientists can alter the digestion process to make it more efficient. Scientists focused on the rumen, the first of its four stomachs, which is rich with various microorganisms, including bacteria, archaea and fungi. Scientists studied samples from 43 cows. They managed to identify 913 diverse strains of microbes, using a technique called metagenomics.

While scientists are trying to improve milk and meat production, they are also looking for other application of the knowledge gathered during this research. They identified enzymes that break down plant material to make energy. This could be potentially useful in biofuel industry. Taking enzymes from nature, synthesizing them and introducing them into chemicals used in the manufacturing of biofuels could significantly boost efficiency in this energy-costly industry. However, the main focus is on solving world’s food problems.

Beef and milk are very important sources of nutrition for millions of people. If we could increase the efficiency of cows (that does sound weird, we know), we could produce more food while spending less resources. But in order to achieve that, scientists have to understand how cows are converting food into energy. Rainer Roehe, one of the authors of the study, said: “The newly identified microbial species in the rumen of beef cattle will greatly improve our understanding of how the rumen microbial ecosystem works. Using breeding and nutritional interventions, we will be able to use this information to help improve cattle health and performance throughout the world”.

World’s population continues to grow. We will have to feed all these people and for that we need more food. Increasing milk and meat production from cows could help solving at least part of the problem.


Source: University of Edinburgh

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