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J Dairy Sci. 1996 Aug;79(8):1467-75.

How many ruminal bacteria are there?

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Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.


With the development of strictly anaerobic techniques and habitat-simulating media, a variety of bacteria were isolated from the rumen in the 1940s and 1950s. Based on standard morphological and physiological characteristics, the microbial ecosystem of the rumen contains a very complex population of bacteria. In recent years, ruminal bacteria have been re-evaluated with newer, more objective, and genetically valid methods of classification. Ribosomes are complicated structures, and their DNA-encoding sequences are relatively free from selective pressure. Because ribosomes have evolved slowly, they provide a long-term natural history of evolution. The invariable and hypervariable regions of rRNA genes can be used to group bacteria into kingdoms, genera, and species. The 16S rRNA sequences have provided a basis for renaming some ruminal species (Bacteroides amylophilus is now Ruminobacter amylophilus and Bacteroides succinogenes is now Fibrobacter succinogenes) and for classifying at least one recently isolated ruminal bacterium (e.g., Clostridium aminophilum). The DNA:DNA hybridization is a more sensitive method of assessing bacterial relatedness than is 16S rRNA. Bacterial strains within a species should have a high degree of DNA:DNA homology, but some species of ruminal bacteria (e.g., Prevotella ruminicola and Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens) had highly unrelated strains. Studies of 16S rRNA and DNA:DNA hybridization indicate that the diversity of ruminal bacteria has been greatly underestimated. Traditional studies of phylogeny of ruminal bacteria were stymied by the fastidious growth requirements of many ruminal bacteria, and enumeration was tedious and inaccurate. Modern methods of bacterial classification do not require in vitro culture and have the potential of detecting even a single cell.

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