Genomic and Proteomic Analysis of Microbial Function in the Gastrointestinal Tract of Ruminants

Bryan A. White, Mark Morrison

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Rumen microbiology research has undergone several evolutionary steps: the isolation and nutritional characterization of readily cultivated microbes; followed by the cloning and sequence analysis of individual genes relevant to key digestive processes; through to the use of small subunit ribosomal RNA (SSU rRNA) sequences for a cultivation-independent examination of microbial diversity. Our knowledge of rumen microbiology has expanded as a result, but the translation of this information into productive alterations of ruminai function has been rather limited. For instance, the cloning and characterization of cellulase genes in Escherichia coli has yielded some valuable information about this complex enzyme system in ruminai bacteria. SSU rRNA analyses have also confirmed that a considerable amount of the microbial diversity in the rumen is not represented in existing culture collections. However, we still have little idea of whether the key, and potentially rate-limiting, gene products and (or) microbial interactions have been identified. Technologies allowing high throughput nucleotide and protein sequence analysis have led to the emergence of two new fields of investigation, genomics and proteomics. Both disciplines can be further subdivided into functional and comparative lines of investigation. The massive accumulation of microbial DNA and protein sequence data, including complete genome sequences, is revolutionizing the way we examine microbial physiology and diversity. We describe here some examples of our use of genomics- and proteomics-based methods, to analyze the cellulase system of Ruminococcus flavefaciens FD-1 and explore the genome of Ruminococcus albus 8. At Illinois, we are using bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) vectors to create libraries containing large (>75 kbases), contiguous segments of DNA from R. flavefaciens FD-1. Considering that every bacterium is not a candidate for whole genome sequencing, BAG libraries offer an attractive, alternative method to perform physical and functional analyses of a bacterium's genome. Our first plan is to use these BAC clones to determine whether or not cellulases and accessory genes in R. flavefaciens exist in clusters of orthologous genes (COGs). Proteomics is also being used to complement the BAC library/DNA sequencing approach. Proteins differentially expressed in response to carbon source are being identified by 2-D SDS-PAGE, followed by in-gel-digests and peptide mass mapping by MALDI-TOF Mass Spectrometry, as well as peptide sequencing by Edman degradation. At Ohio State, we have used a combination of functional proteomics, mutational analysis and differential display RT-PCR to obtain evidence suggesting that in addition to a cellulosome-like mechanism, R. albus 8 possesses other mechanisms for adhesion to plant surfaces. Genome walking on either side of these differentially expressed transcripts has also resulted in two interesting observations: i) a relatively large number of genes with no matches in the current databases and; ii) the identification of genes with a high level of sequence identity to those identified, until now, in the archaebacteria. Genomics and proteomics will also accelerate our understanding of microbial interactions, and allow a greater degree of in situ analyses in the future. The challenge is to utilize genomics and proteomics to improve our fundamental understanding of microbial physiology, diversity and ecology, and overcome constraints to ruminai function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)880-884
Number of pages5
JournalAsian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2001


  • Cellulase
  • Genomics
  • Proteomics
  • Ruminococcus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • General Engineering


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