Effect of nitrate upon the digestibility of kikuyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum)
Marais, Johan Pieter.
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The factors affecting the accumulation of nitrate in kikuyu grass pastures and the effect of elevated nitrate levels upon digestion in the ruminant were investigated. A high potassium level in the soil seems to be the major factor stimulating the accumulation of excessive amounts of nitrate in kikuyu grass, when the nitrate content of the soil is also high. The continuous elongation of kikuyu grass tillers allows constant exposure of high nitrate containing stem tissue to the grazing ruminant. Digestibility studies in vitro showed that nitrite, formed during the assimilatory reduction of nitrate to ammonia, reduces cellulose digestion, but the degree of reduction also depends upon the presence of readily available carbohydrates and protein in the digest. Studies in vivo showed that the microbial population can adapt to metabolise high concentrations of nitrate (500 mg% N, m/m) in fresh kikuyu grass, without the accumulation of nitrite in the rumen. However, introduction into the rumen of nitrite in excess of the capacity of the nitrite reducing microbes, causes nitrite accumulation. Nitrite has no direct effect upon rumen cellulase activity. Due to the affinity of rumen carbohydrases for the substrate, attempts to isolate these enzymes by means of isoelectric focusing and other separation techniques met with limited success. Nitrite strongly reduces the xylanolytic, total and cellulolytic microbial numbers with a concomitant decrease in xylanase and cellulase activity of the digest. Decreased microbial numbers could not be .attributed to a less negative redox potential of the digest in the presence of nitrite, nor could the effect upon the cellulolytic microbes be attributed to an effect of nitrite on branched chain fatty acid synthesis required for cellulolytic microbial growth. A study of the effect of nitrite upon the specific growth rate of pure cultures of the major cellulolytic bacteria, Ruminococcus flavefaciens strain FDI, Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens strain Ce 51, Bacteroides succinogenes strain S 85 and Ruminococcus albus strain 22.08.6A and the non-cellulolytic bacterium Selenomonas ruminantium strain ATCC 19205 revealed the extreme sensitivity to nitrite of some of these bacteria and the relative insensitivity of others. Growth inhibition seems to depend primarily upon the extent to which these microbes derive their energy from electron transport-mediated processes.