Board-invited review: Opportunities and challenges in using exogenous enzymes to improve ruminant production

S. J. Meale, K. A. Beauchemin, A. N. Hristov, A. V. Chaves, T. A. McAllister

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


The ability of ruminants to convert plant biomass unsuitable for human consumption into meat and milk is of great societal and agricultural importance. However, the efficiency of this process is largely dependent on the digestibility of plant cell walls. Supplementing ruminant diets with exogenous enzymes has the potential to improve plant cell wall digestibility and thus the efficiency of feed utilization. Understanding the complexity of the rumen microbial ecosystem and the nature of its interactions with plant cell walls is the key to using exogenous enzymes to improve feed utilization in ruminants. The variability currently observed in production responses can be attributed to the array of enzyme formulations available, their variable activities, the level of supplementation, mode of delivery, and the diet to which they are applied as well as the productivity level of the host. Although progress on enzyme technologies for ruminants has been made, considerable research is still required if successful formulations are to be developed. Advances in DNA and RNA sequencing and bioinformatic analysis have provided novel insight into the structure and function of rumen microbial populations. Knowledge of the rumen microbial ecosystem and its associated carbohydrases could enhance the likelihood of achieving positive responses to enzyme supplementation. The ability to sequence microbial genomes represents a valuable source of information in terms of the physiology and function of both culturable and unculturable rumen microbial species. The advent of metagenomic, metatranscriptomic, and proteomic techniques will further enhance our understanding of the enzymatic machinery involved in cell wall degradation and provide a holistic view of the microbial community and the complexities of plant cell wall digestion. These technologies should provide new insight into the identification of exogenous enzymes that act synergistically with the rumen microbial populations that ultimately dictate the efficiency of feed digestion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-442
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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