Comparing the responses of rumen ciliate protozoa and bacteria to excess carbohydrate

FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2017 Jun 1;93(6). doi: 10.1093/femsec/fix060.


When given excess carbohydrate, certain microbial species respond by storing energy (synthesizing reserve carbohydrate), but other species respond by dissipating the energy as heat (spilling energy). To determine the importance of these responses in the rumen microbial community, this study quantified the responses of mixed ciliate protozoa vs bacteria to glucose. We hypothesized that ciliates would direct more glucose to synthesis of reserve carbohydrate (and less to energy spilling) than would bacteria. Ciliates and bacteria were isolated from rumen fluid using filtration and centrifugation, resuspended in nitrogen-free buffer to limit growth, and dosed with 5 mM glucose. Compared with bacteria, ciliates consumed glucose >3-fold faster and synthesized reserve carbohydrate 4-fold faster. They incorporated 53% of glucose carbon into reserve carbohydrate-nearly double the value (27%) for bacteria. Energy spilling was not detected for ciliates, as all heat production (104%) was accounted by synthesis of reserve carbohydrate and endogenous metabolism. For bacteria, reserve carbohydrate and endogenous metabolism accounted for only 68% of heat production, and spilling was detected within 11 min of dosing glucose. These results suggest that ciliates alter the course of ruminal carbohydrate metabolism by outcompeting bacteria for excess carbohydrate, maximizing reserve carbohydrate synthesis, and minimizing energy spilling.

Keywords: bacteria; ciliate protozoa; energy spilling; glucose; reserve carbohydrate; rumen.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism / physiology*
  • Carbohydrates
  • Cattle
  • Ciliophora / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Rumen / microbiology*
  • Rumen / parasitology*


  • Carbohydrates
  • Glucose
  • Nitrogen