Quantitative analysis of cellulose degradation and growth of cellulolytic bacteria in the rumen


  • Editor: Jim Prosser

Correspondence: James B. Russell, Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Robert C. Holley Research Center, Tower Road, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA. Tel.: +1 607 255 4508; fax: +1 607 255 2739; e-mail: jbr8@cornell.edu


Ruminant animals digest cellulose via a symbiotic relationship with ruminal microorganisms. Because feedstuffs only remain in the rumen for a short time, the rate of cellulose digestion must be very rapid. This speed is facilitated by rumination, a process that returns food to the mouth to be rechewed. By decreasing particle size, the cellulose surface area can be increased by up to 106-fold. The amount of cellulose digested is then a function of two competing rates, namely the digestion rate (Kd) and the rate of passage of solids from the rumen (Kp). Estimation of bacterial growth on cellulose is complicated by several factors: (1) energy must be expended for maintenance and growth of the cells, (2) only adherent cells are capable of degrading cellulose and (3) adherent cells can provide nonadherent cells with cellodextrins. Additionally, when ruminants are fed large amounts of cereal grain along with fiber, ruminal pH can decrease to a point where cellulolytic bacteria no longer grow. A dynamic model based on stella® software is presented. This model evaluates all of the major aspects of ruminal cellulose degradation: (1) ingestion, digestion and passage of feed particles, (2) maintenance and growth of cellulolytic bacteria and (3) pH effects.