The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
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Cow gut DNA study could help improve meat and dairy

Scientists discovered thousands of microbes in cows’ stomachs which could improve meat and dairy yields, and cows’ health.

Three cows facing the camera.
The microbes found improve production efficiency, product quality and animal health.

Researchers from the Roslin Institute, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) 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. The discovery could improve meat and dairy yields, and cows’ health.

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.

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

Greenhouse gas emissions

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 2017 study by the same team which linked DNA analysis to food digestion, animal health and greenhouse gas emissions.

Thousands of newly found microbes

The team used the latest DNA technologies to obtain the complete genetic makeup 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.

The study is published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Cow health, meat and dairy production

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, meat and dairy production for many years to come.

Professor Mick Watson, Head of Genetics and Genomics, Roslin Institute

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 Rainer Roehe, Professor of Animal Genetics and Microbiome, SRUC

** This article has been prepared with materials provided by SRUC. **


About the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than eight hundred staff and almost fourteen hundred students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos.

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We represent the largest concentration of animal science related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.