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In first, Israeli researcher finds way to successfully manipulated a cow’s microbiome

Cows grazing in a field in Israel. ( Boris Diakovsky/Shutterstock)
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BGU Professor Itzhak Mizrahi says ‘we can use this knowledge to modulate microbiome composition to lower the environmental impact of cows on our planet by guiding them to our desired outcomes.’

In a move to lessen the emission of Methane gas released from grazing cows, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s (BGU) Mizrahi Group has successfully manipulated a cow’s microbiome for the first time. 

In a statement, the university explained that by learning to control the microbiome, “scientists can prevent cows from emitting methane, one of the most serious greenhouse gases.”

A study done by the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, Methane is a greenhouse gas with 28 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide and its production by cattle is the leading source of human related methane production.

According to BGU Professor Itzhak Mizrahi, the microbiome is an underexplored area scientifically, but it exerts great control over many aspects of animal and human physical systems. 

“Microbes begin to be introduced at birth and produce a unique microbiome which then evolves over time,” said Mizrahi, who is a member of the Department of Life Sciences in the Faculty of Natural Sciences and a member of the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN).

Well-known science website, Phys.org explains that when a cow eats grass, it goes into the rumen, where a host of microbes reside along with other digestive materials. “The host microbes work together to break down the carbohydrates via a fermentation process,” the website continued. “As part of that process, hydrogen is produced by certain types of bacteria, and then archaea combine carbon dioxide with the hydrogen to produce methane. 

“Contrary to common belief, most of the methane is belched out of the cow’s mouth,” it added.

The BGU researchers have been running a three-year experiment with a group of 50 cows. 

The cows, Mizrahi explained, were divided into two groups. “One group gave birth naturally, and the other gave birth through cesarean section,” Mizrahi continued “That difference was enough to change the development and composition of the microbiome of the cows from each group.” 

BGU pointed out that this finding essentially allows for the development of an algorithm, which can predict the microbiome development. 

The university added that this algorithm can “predict how the microbiomes evolve over time based on its present composition together with Prof. Eran Halperin’s group at UCLA.”

Mizrahi went on to highlight that now that they know that they can influence the microbiome development, “we can use this knowledge to modulate microbiome composition to lower the environmental impact of cows on our planet by guiding them to our desired outcomes.”

For Mizrahi, who is investigating the microbiome of cows, fish and other species to prepare us for a world shaped by climate change, reducing methane emissions from cows will reduce global warming. 

Engineering healthier fish, which is another of his projects, :is especially important as the oceans empty of fish and aquaculture becomes the major source of seafood.”

The findings were published late last month in Nature Communications.

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