Australian scientists discover digestive super bugs with potential to improve human health

Scientists in Victoria, Australia have made a world-first discovery of thousands of never-before-identified digestive super bugs living inside cows' stomachs, which may lead to environmental, agricultural and human health benefits.

Victoria Innovation Minister Gavin Jennings announced the discovery today in the US, where he is part of a Victorian contingent led by Premier John Brumby, at the 2008 BIO International Convention. The contingent includes delegates from 70 Victorian research institutes, universities, and industry bodies.

"This discovery is of international scientific and commercial interest because human gut microbes have previously been linked to a number of acute and chronic diseases, such as obesity and inflammatory bowel disease," Mr. Jennings said.

"Bacteria in the rumen, the first digestive stomach in cows and sheep, are responsible for beginning digestion - and this is where the most carbon and nitrogen is released.

"If we can increase our knowledge of the genetic make-up of these new bacteria we may be able to reduce the amount of methane produced by cows and sheep.

"The next step is for our scientists at the Department of Primary Industries, in collaboration with US research organisation, the Venter Institute, to decode these ruminant bacteria."

Victorian Department of Primary Industries scientist Dr. Ben Cocks, said understanding the composition and function of rumen bacteria also would have significant ramifications on our knowledge of digestive systems in mammals and could lead to new solutions in human health.

"Ruminant animals do not make enzymes that can break down most plant matter, so ruminants such as cows depend on communities of bacteria within the rumen to break down their food," Dr. Cocks said.

"The scientists used genetic material recovered directly from farm samples of rumen fluid, using a relatively new field of science known as metagenomics. Metagenomics enables scientists to characterise genomes of bacteria that are not readily isolated or able to be grown in the laboratory."

Dr. Cocks will discuss the findings at BIO2008 in the Innovation Corridor sponsored by the Brumby Government.

The new $230 million Biosciences Research Centre, a joint venture between the Victorian Government and La Trobe University, will boost Victoria's ability to make these important scientific discoveries.

To be located in Bundoora, Melbourne, the facility will deliver internationally recognised research and development science outcomes for the benefit of Victoria.

Other agencies and organisations with complementary science objectives are invited to partner or link in to the new Centre.

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