How do gut microbes help herbivores? Counting the ways

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Science  20 Jan 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6322, pp. 236
DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6322.236

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No matter what a vegan may tell you, a solely plant-based diet is a tough way to get all the calories and nutrients you need. Unless you have the right microbial partners. At the recent annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, researchers made it clear that microbes lend a wide array of other talents to herbivores. One gut microbe helps a tropical ant recycle nitrogen, which is scarce in plant matter and is vital for making proteins. Another aids leaf beetles by breaking down the cell walls of the foliage they consume. And a third set of microbial allies explains how pack rats can munch on toxin-filled desert vegetation—a discovery that may suggest ways to thwart kidney stones in people. The work is showing just how broadly important microbes are in the animal kingdom.

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