Comparative Metabolite Fingerprinting of the Rumen System during Colonisation of Three Forage Grass (Lolium perenne L.) Varieties

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The rumen microbiota enable ruminants to degrade complex ligno-cellulosic compounds to produce high quality protein for human consumption. However, enteric fermentation by domestic ruminants generates negative by-products: greenhouse gases (methane) and environmental nitrogen pollution. The current lack of cultured isolates representative of the totality of rumen microbial species creates an information gap about the in vivo function of the rumen microbiota and limits our ability to apply predictive biology for improvement of feed for ruminants. In this work we took a whole ecosystem approach to understanding how the metabolism of the microbial population responds to introduction of its substrate. Fourier Transform Infra Red (FTIR) spectroscopy-based metabolite fingerprinting was used to discriminate differences in the plant-microbial interactome of the rumen when using three forage grass varieties (Lolium perenne L. cv AberDart, AberMagic and Premium) as substrates for microbial colonisation and fermentation. Specific examination of spectral regions associated with fatty acids, amides, sugars and alkanes indicated that although the three forages were apparently similar by traditional nutritional analysis, patterns of metabolite flux within the plant-microbial interactome were distinct and plant genotype dependent. Thus, the utilisation pattern of forage nutrients by the rumen microbiota can be influenced by subtleties determined by forage genotypes. These data suggest that our interactomic approach represents an important means to improve forages and ultimately the livestock environment.