Amino Acid Nutrition and Reproductive Performance in Ruminants
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Amino acids (AAs) are essential for the survival, growth and development of ruminant conceptuses. Most of the dietary AAs (including L-arginine, L-lysine, L-methionine and L-glutamine) are extensively catabolized by the ruminal microbes of ruminants to synthesize AAs and microbial proteins (the major source of AAs utilized by cells in ruminant species) in the presence of sufficient carbohydrates (mainly cellulose and hemicellulose), nitrogen, and sulfur. Results of recent studies indicate that the ruminal microbes of adult steers and sheep do not degrade extracellular L-citrulline and have a limited ability to metabolize extracellular L-glutamate due to little or no uptake by the cells. Although traditional research in ruminant protein nutrition has focused on AAs (e.g., lysine and methionine for lactating cows) that are not synthesized by eukaryotic cells, there is growing interest in the nutritional and physiological roles of AAs (e.g., L-arginine, L-citrulline, L-glutamine and L-glutamate) in gestating ruminants (e.g., cattle, sheep and goats) and lactating dairy cows. Results of recent studies show that intravenous administration of L-arginine to underfed, overweight or prolific ewes enhances fetal growth, thedevelopment of brown fat in fetuses, and thesurvival of neonatal lambs. Likewise, dietary supplementation with either rumen-protected L-arginine or unprotected L-citrulline to gestating sheep or beef cattle improved embryonic survival. Because dietary L-citrulline and L-glutamate are not degraded by ruminal microbes, addition of these two amino acids may be a new useful, cost-effective method for improving the reproductive efficiency of ruminants.