Rumen ciliate protozoa contain high concentrations of conjugated linoleic acids and vaccenic acid, yet do not hydrogenate linoleic acid or desaturate stearic acid

Estelle Devillard, Freda M. McIntosh, C. James Newbold, R. John Wallace

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70 Citations (Scopus)


Conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) have been shown to improve human health. They are derived from the microbial conversion of dietary linoleic acid (cis-9,cis-12-18 : 2 (LA)) in the rumen. An investigation was undertaken to determine the role of ruminal ciliate protozoa v. bacteria in the formation of CLA and its precursor in animal tissues, vaccenic acid (trans-11-18 : 1 (VA)). Mixed protozoa from the sheep rumen contained at least two to three times more unsaturated fatty acids, including CLA and VA, than bacteria. Different species had different composition, with larger fibrolytic species such as Epidinium ecaudatum caudatum containing more than ten times more CLA and VA than some small species, including Entodinium nanellum. In incubations with ruminal microbial fractions (bacterial fraction (BAC), protozoal fraction (PRO)), LA metabolism was very similar in strained ruminal fluid (SRF) and in the BAC, while the PRO had LA-metabolising activity an order of magnitude lower. Using PCR-based methods, no genes homologous to fatty acid desaturase genes were found in cDNA libraries from ruminal protozoa. The absence of an alternative route of VA/CLA formation via desaturation of stearate was confirmed by incubations of SRF, BAC or PRO with [C-14] stearate. Thus, although protozoa are rich in CLA and VA, they appear to lack the ability to form these two fatty acids from LA or stearate. The most likely explanation is that protozoa preferentially incorporate CLA and VA formed by bacteria. The implication of the present findings is that the flow of unsaturated fatty acids, including CLA and VA, from the rumen could depend on the flow of protozoa rather than bacteria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)697-704
Number of pages8
JournalBritish Journal of Nutrition
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2006


  • biohydrogenation
  • rumen protozoa
  • conjugated linoleic acids
  • trans fatty acids
  • unsaturated fatty acids
  • bacteria
  • sheep
  • defaunation
  • metabolism
  • sequestration
  • fermentation
  • lipids

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