The rumen contains a great diversity of prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms that allow the ruminant to utilize ligno-cellulose material and to convert non-protein nitrogen into microbial protein to obtain energy and amino acids. However, rumen fermentation also has potential deleterious consequences associated with the emissions of greenhouse gases, excessive nitrogen excreted in manure and may also adversely influence the nutritional value of ruminant products. While several strategies for optimizing the energy and nitrogen use by ruminants have been suggested, a better understanding of the key microorganisms involved and their activities is essential to manipulate rumen processes successfully. Diet is the most obvious factor influencing the rumen microbiome and fermentation. Among dietary interventions, the ban of antimicrobial growth promoters in animal production systems has led to an increasing interest in the use of plant extracts to manipulate the rumen. Plant extracts (e.g. saponins, polyphenol compounds, essential oils) have shown potential to decrease methane emissions and improve the efficiency of nitrogen utilization; however, there are limitations such as inconsistency, transient and adverse effects for their use as feed additives for ruminants. It has been proved that the host animal may also influence the rumen microbial population both as a heritable trait and through the effect of early-life nutrition on microbial population structure and function in adult ruminants. Recent developments have allowed phylogenetic information to be upscaled to metabolic information; however, research effort on cultivation of microorganisms for an in-depth study and characterization is needed. The introduction and integration of metagenomic, transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic techniques is offering the greatest potential of reaching a truly systems-level understanding of the rumen; studies have been focused on the prokaryotic population and a broader approach needs to be considered.
Bibliographical note© The Animal Consortium 2020