Seminar 4 – You’ve got guts

The ruminant gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem made up of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and archaea, all found within the rumen, all of which is responsible for the breakdown of organic material to be used by the rest of the body.


But this process doesn’t necessarily convert high quality plant material into high quality meat. Through biohydrogenation polyunsaturated fats (PUF) are converted into saturated fats as the double bonds present in the PUF are toxic to the rumen microbes and ultimately affect the quality of the milk or meat.


Dr Sharon Huws of Aberystwyth University focuses on the rumen gut microbiome and believes that through its manipulation, in particular the enzyme Butyrivibrio, the dairy and meat industries are able to create healthier products.


What’s all this about seaweed?

Dr Huws’s research also focused on the potential use of macroalgae as an alternative to plant matter when generating biofuel. The breakdown of Ulva by enzymes produces a substantial amount of energy at a higher biomass per unit area than that of other plant material.


The model species used in this research was North Ronaldsay sheep, of whose diet wholly consists of macroalgae (your average seaweed) therefore knowledge on how their gut microbiome operates aids in the development of a new biofuel. 

Image result for north ronaldsay sheep
This BBC article goes into more detail about their ecology and just how unique this species are.


Although a potential problem arose from the use of this particular species. After collecting faecal samples and using the genetic sequences of 83 potential ulvan lyases to create phylogenetic trees, they found that there were 3 ulvan lyases different to those already stated in existing literature.

Future Implications

Despite taking a greater interest in the much larger and somewhat fluffier or unique organisms I found this seminar quite interesting and I can’t deny that microorganisms don’t play a major role in ecosystem functioning. The main part of the seminar I found particularly intriguing was the potential use of seaweed as a biofuel. As fossil fuels become more scarce, and expensive, more renewable options must be researched and developed. Also research involving North Ronaldsay sheep could promote the breeding and conservation of this species that has been classified as vulnerable by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Ultimately, there are countless research opportunities as far as microbes are concerned.

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Cover photo by Tizzi Huntington

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