For the first time ever, University of Illinois (UI) researchers have discovered how microbes break down hemicellulose plant matter into simple sugars using a cow rumen bacterium as a model.

"This is ground-breaking research," said Isaac Cann, associate professor in the UI Department of Animal Sciences and member of the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) in the Institute for Genomic Biology. "The implications are very broad, yet it all started with a simple rumen microbe. It's amazing how we can draw inferences to human health and nutrition, biofuel production and animal nutrition because of our new understanding of how a microbe works."

The cow rumen is an excellent model to study as it's one of the most efficient machines to deconstruct plant matter, Cann said. Microbes in the rumen break down plant matter into glucose and xylose to use as nutrients for fermentation and energy acquisition.

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