The trial moose finds itself in the company of other moose in Alaska, and is one of several that have received an opening in their stomachs. This will give scientists knowledge of the microbial community in the gut. The microorganisms that are located in the digestive system of ruminants such as moose are of interest to the scientists. They break down material that is difficult to biodegrade such as twigs and bark into nutrients.
The researchers want to find out more about how this decomposition takes place throughout the seasons. They wish to recreate this decomposition in order to break down biological material and develop new products, such as biofuels, feed and industrial chemicals. Microorganisms that break down the biomass play a central role in a surprising number of processes.
“During the course of a whole year, the moose has access to a variety of different food. By understanding how microorganisms in the moose’s stomach break down woody materials such as twigs and bark, we can better understand how the seasonal variations in the diet of these animals affect their ability to break down woody material. We have wanted to find out which microorganisms are involved in this breakdown”, said Associate Professor Phillip Pope at The Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
This is the first time researchers have followed the digestion of living, wild moose over an extended period of time. Previous studies have only involved dead animals. The trials have provided unique insights into the complex network of microorganisms that are responsible for the carbon cycle in the ecosystem of the gut.
The moose have given scientists a good understanding of where specialised microorganisms are to be found and how they coordinate their tasks to attune the carbon flow of the gut. The analysis provided metabolic insight into 180 different genomes, where most of them were previously unknown.
The study is published in Nature Microbiology. This is a collaboration between a number of universities and academic communities: The Ohio State University, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Copenhagen, Newcastle University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and The Norwegian University of Life Sciences.