Author(s): Stevens CE, Hume ID
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Abstract The vertebrate gastrointestinal tract is populated by bacteria and, in some species, protozoa and fungi that can convert dietary and endogenous substrates into absorbable nutrients. Because of a neutral pH and longer digesta retention time, the largest bacterial populations are found in the hindgut or large intestine of mammals, birds, reptiles, and adult amphibians and in the foregut of a few mammals and at least one species of bird. Bacteria ferment carbohydrates into short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), convert dietary and endogenous nitrogenous compounds into ammonia and microbial protein, and synthesize B vitamins. Absorption of SCFA provides energy for the gut epithelial cells and plays an important role in the absorption of Na and water. Ammonia absorption aids in the conservation of nitrogen and water. A larger gut capacity and longer digesta retention time provide herbivores with additional SCFA for maintenance energy and foregut-fermenting and copoprophagic hindgut-fermenting species with access to microbially synthesized protein and B vitamins. Protozoa and fungi also contribute nutrients to the host. This review discusses the contributions of gut microorganisms common to all vertebrates, the numerous digestive strategies that allow herbivores to maximize these contributions, and the effects of low-fiber diets and discontinuous feeding schedules on these microbial digestive processes.
This article was published in Physiol Rev
and referenced in Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy