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What Lurks in the Cow Rumen

Scientists hope that by tweaking the gut microbiomes of cows that they might be able to get the animals to produce more meat while eating less food or emit less of the greenhouse gas methane, NPR reports.

It notes that such ends are a ways off, but that researchers have started down that path by taking a census of what bacteria are present in the cow gut microbiome, particularly the rumen microbiome — which NPR dubs the "moo-crobiome." Researchers led by the University of Edinburgh's Mick Watson collected 42 post-mortem rumen samples from Scottish cows for sequencing. As they report in Nature Communications, they assembled 913 draft microbial genomes from these samples after recovering genomes through metagenomic binning and Hi-C clustering.

These genomes included ones the researchers say were previously unsequenced and housed more than 69,000 proteins predicted to be involved in carbohydrate metabolism. They further report the discovery of thousands of novel carbohydrate-active enzymes, which they say could have biofuel and biotechnology applications.

"[E]ventually, concretely identifying which microbes or communities of microbes help cows digest best could improve bovine eating and burping habits," NPR says. "And there are plenty of enzymes and microbes to explore."