Antimicrobial properties of plant secondary metabolites

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338 Citations (Scopus)


Increasing awareness of hazards associated with the use of antibiotic and chemical feed additives has accelerated investigations into plants and their extracts as feed additives. The present review mainly discusses two classes of plant secondary compounds in this context, i.e. essential oils and saponins. The broader potential of plants and their extracts is illustrated by the progress of an EC Framework 5 project, 'Rumen-up'. Dietary inclusion of a commercial blend of essential oils causes markedly decreased NH3 production from amino acids in rumen fluid taken from sheep and cattle. This effect is mediated partly by the effects on hyper-NH3-producing bacteria and the protein- and starch-fermenting rumen bacterium, Ruminobacter amylophilus. Saponin-containing plants and their extracts suppress the bacteriolytic activity of rumen ciliate protozoa and thereby enhance total microbial protein flow from the rumen. The effects of some saponins are transient, because saponins are hydrolysed by bacteria to their corresponding sapogenin aglycones, which are much less toxic to protozoa. Saponins also have selective antibacterial effects that may prove useful in, for example, controlling starch digestion. The 'Rumen-up' project began with a targetted collection of European plants and their extracts, which partners have tested for their effects on rumen proteolysis, protozoa, methanogenesis and lactate production. A success rate of about 5% in terms of positive hits illustrates that plant secondary compounds, of which essential oils and saponins comprise a small proportion, have great potential as 'natural' manipulators of rumen fermentation to benefit the farmer and the environment in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621-629
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Nutrition Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2004
EventJoint Meeting of the Nutrition Society and Food Standards Agency - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Feb 200412 Feb 2004


  • essential oils
  • manipulation
  • ruminants
  • saponins
  • Yucca schidigera extract
  • high-energy diet
  • de-faunation
  • rumen fermentation
  • ruminal microorganisms
  • nutrient digestion
  • protein metabolism
  • ciliate protozoa
  • alfalfa saponins


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