We are improving efficiency of gastrointestinal microbes and their animal hosts in several ways.
Tackling poor efficiency of microbial growth
Microbes are inefficient and use as little as 1/3 of cellular energy (ATP) for growth. This is a problem because protein from growing cells nourishes the ruminant. We are tackling this problem by characterizing cellular mechanisms, such energy spilling and glycogen synthesis, which are at root of poor efficiency.
Determining how much energy microbes harvest from fermentation
Microbes harvest energy during fermentation to drive growth. We thought we knew how much energy (ATP) they generated—biochemical pathways for fermentation have been chiseled in the stone of textbooks for decades. Discovery of new proteins (Rnf, Ech), however, indicates new branches in those pathways. We are determining exactly how much ATP they can generate.
Identifying what food compounds (substrates) uncultured bacteria eat
What foods an organism eats is one of its most basic characteristics, but determining what bacteria eat is a problem because >90% have not been cultured in the lab. Our plan is to use fluorescent analogues of carbohydrates to literally see which bacteria eat what. This work will help identify what the uncultured majority are doing and their role in the ruminant.