Control of rumen microbiome is possibly achievable

Control over the rumen microbiome is likely 20 years away, but research has shown it is possible to manipulate the complex rumen ecosystem.

Evidence is mounting that the host itself may have an effect on the rumen microbial population.

Professor Jamie Newbold from Aberystwyth University, explained during the Presidents Session at the BSAS annual conference, that within a flock of sheep of the same breed on the same diet, some animals will segregate into ‘low’ or ‘high’ methane producers, which to an extent is heritable.

He said: “The mechanisms by which the host might control the rumen microbial population is unknown, but factors such as modifying the gene expression of the rumen epithelium and possible variation is rumen outflow or volume have been suggested.”

Investigations into early life nutrition on microbial populations has also been found to have an influence.

During rumen development in young animals, ingested microbes colonise and establish in a defined and progressive sequence.

“The coexistence of the host and the microbial gut communities is clearly immunologically driven, and we are only beginning to understand the complex ways in which they adapt to each other,” Prof Newbold said.

A simple nutritional regime applied early in life modified the bacterial population colonising the rumen in lambs and that effect persisted for over four months.

“Research has shown that treating lambs with chloroform from birth until weaning had significant effects on methane production and rumen function over four months after the treatment stopped, and there were still indications of altered rumen function after 12 months.

“If the concept that additives used in early life can affect rumen function in adult life then this will change our approach to rumen manipulation,” he said.