University of Tennessee Maximizing Microbes: Improving feed efficiency and nutrition for sustainable beef

The world’s population is expected to exceed 10 billion people by 2050. To supply the growing population with adequate sources of protein, food production must continue to improve efficiency. 

Dr. Myer and his team work on this complex challenge by improving the nutrition and feed efficiency of beef cattle. To do so, they are developing tools and technologies that examine the rumen and gut microbiome. They are also identifying relationships among an animal’s microbiomes with its diet, physiology, and genetics to understand how these factors impact feed efficiency. 

The rumen is the first compartment of the stomach in cattle and operates as a complex fermentation chamber colonized by numerous microbial species. These microbes act together to convert plant material into nutrients, which are ultimately transformed into protein fit for human consumption. 

Optimizing or modifying the microbial community in the gut stands to significantly improve the way cattle absorb nutrients. The research team’s current data suggest that specific microbes may be functionally more important than others in determining the differences between high and low feed efficient cattle. 

The next step for Dr. Myer and his program is to determine to what degree the rumen microbiome influences animal health and vice versa, and to connect this understanding with the cattle’s genome.

As producers and researchers work to optimize cattle productivity, these combined microbiome and genomic tools could improve selection for feed efficient cattle. This will help secure high-quality sources of protein for the growing global population in the coming decades. 


“Microbes equal or outnumber cells throughout the body. By learning more about the mutually beneficial relationships among ruminant hosts and their microbes, we can have a great impact on the beef industry. I’m excited that our research will help feed future generations.” 

– Phillip Myer   

Retaking The Field Volume 4 “Retaking the Field: Science Breakthroughs for Thriving Farms and a Healthier Nation” is a collaborative report from 20 FedByScience universities and the SoAR Foundation. The report highlights research projects in the five Science Breakthroughs areas identified as the most important fields to advance in agriculture by the year 2030: genomics, microbiomes, sensors, data and informatics, and transdisciplinary research. View The Issue
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