Elucidating bovine host genomic links with rumen microbial genes to improve sustainably feed conversion efficiency using unique selection criteria

Project Details


The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has predicted an increase in global meat and milk demand of 76% and 63% by 2050 due to increasing income and growing world population. This will require improved sustainable systems for livestock production. The large fore-gut of cattle, the rumen, contains billions of microbes (the microbiome) per gram of digesta (which is the substance as food undergoes digestion). These microbes ferment human inedible food (e.g. grass) into nutrients the host animal converts into high quality products such as meat and milk. This rumen microbial eco-system is essential for the animal but has one disadvantage for the environment because some microbes produce the potent greenhouse gas methane. This project will address these challenges by using rumen microbial information as animal breeding criteria for improvement of feed conversion efficiency with simultaneous mitigation of methane emissions. In this research we will estimate the extent of the link between animal genome and its rumen microbiome and investigate the causes for their link using a large breeding population. This population is provided by our commercial partner Genus plc and is well structured to ensure accurate estimation of host genetic effects on the microbiome. Our previous research showed that rumen microbial gene abundances are closely related to feed conversion efficiency and methane emissions. However, how and to what extent the host animal genome affects the abundances of microbial genes is unknown and will be investigated within this project. Because the metabolic functions of these microbial genes are mostly known, we expect to identify many novel genetic links between the host animal and specific rumen microbial functions that may even be conserved across species. Networks and functional pathways of rumen microbial genes linked to the animal genome will provide a new level of understanding of the symbiosis between microbiome and host animal. We areexpecting to identify pathways of microbial genes, e.g. to provide insight into the "cross-talk" between the rumen microbes and the host animal, being a route by which the host genome controls its own rumen microbiome. Based on these findings, optimised selection criteria and strategies to improve feed conversion ratio and mitigate methane emissions will be developed. In addition, we will use biomarkers to control that there are no adverse effects of selection using microbial genes on rumen health with potential consequences for animal health and welfare. Our large commercial partner will ensure that the outcomes of the project can be immediately implemented in the routine breeding activities and thus contribute to address the challenges of food security and environmental impact of animal production. This project is expected to provide an enormous increase in fundamental knowledge of the links between host animal genome and the rumen microbiome, which may be also relevant in other species including humans, and at the same time will develop methods and strategies to use this new knowledge for practical application in animal breeding.
Effective start/end date1/05/1931/10/22


  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action

ASJC Scopus Subject Areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Genetics
  • veterinary(all)
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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