Functional gene-guided enrichment plus in situ microsphere cultivation enables isolating new crucial ureolytic bacteria from the rumen of cattle

Sijia Liu, Zhongtang Yu, Huiyue Zhong, Nan Zheng, Sharon Huws, Jiaqi Wang, Shengguo Zhao

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Ruminants can utilize urea as a dietary nitrogen source owing to their ability to recycle urea-N back to the rumen where numerous ureolytic bacteria hydrolyze urea into ammonia, which is used by numerous bacteria as their nitrogen source. Rumen ureolytic bacteria are the key microbes making ruminants the only type of animals independent of pre-formed amino acids for survival, thus having attracted much research interest. Sequencing-based studies have helped gain new insights into ruminal ureolytic bacterial diversity, but only a limited number of ureolytic bacteria have been isolated into pure cultures or studied, hindering the understanding of ureolytic bacteria with respect to their metabolism, physiology, and ecology, all of which are required to effectively improve urea-N utilization efficiency.

We established and used an integrated approach, which include urease gene (ureC) guided enrichment plus in situ agarose microsphere embedding and cultivation under rumen-simulating conditions, to isolate ureolytic bacteria from the rumen microbiome. We optimized the dilutions of the rumen microbiome during the enrichment, single-cell embedding, and then in situ cultivation of microsphere-embedded bacteria using dialysis bags placed in rumen fluid. Metabonomic analysis revealed that the dialysis bags had a fermentation profile very similar to the simulated rumen fermentation. In total, we isolated 404 unique strains of bacteria, of which 52 strains were selected for genomic sequencing. Genomic analyses revealed that 28 strains, which were classified into 12 species, contained urease genes. All these ureolytic bacteria represent new species ever identified in the rumen and represented the most abundant ureolytic species. Compared to all the previously isolated ruminal ureolytic species combined, the newly isolated ureolytic bacteria increased the number of genotypically and phenotypically characterized ureolytic species by 34.38% and 45.83%, respectively. These isolated strains have unique genes compared to the known ureolytic strains of the same species indicating their new metabolic functions, especially in energy and nitrogen metabolism. All the ureolytic species were ubiquitous in the rumen of six different species of ruminants and were correlated to dietary urea metabolism in the rumen and milk protein production. We discovered five different organizations of urease gene clusters among the new isolates, and they had varied approaches to hydrolyze urea. The key amino acid residues of the UreC protein that potentially plays critical regulatory roles in urease activation were also identified.

We established an integrated methodology for the efficient isolation of ureolytic bacteria, which expanded the biological resource of crucial ureolytic bacteria from the rumen. These isolates play a vital role in the incorporation of dietary nitrogen into bacterial biomass and hence contribute to ruminant growth and productivity. Moreover, this methodology can enable efficient isolation and cultivation of other bacteria of interest in the environment and help bridge the knowledge gap between genotypes and phenotypes of uncultured bacteria.

Original languageEnglish
Article number76
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2023


  • Rumen
  • Urease - genetics - metabolism
  • Amino Acids - metabolism
  • Isolation
  • Bacteria
  • Urease
  • Animals
  • Urea - metabolism
  • Rumen - microbiology
  • Nitrogen - metabolism
  • Ureolytic bacteria
  • Agarose microsphere embedding
  • Ruminants - metabolism
  • In situ cultivation
  • Cattle
  • Microspheres


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