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Although we can’t see them, bacteria are everywhere. In terms of numbers, they are by far the most successful organisms on Earth (they blow Arachnids out of the water). One reason they’re so widespread is they can survive in almost any conceivable environment—bacteria have been found to thrive in extreme hot, extreme cold, and even in outer space.

Bacteria are not only all around us, but literally in us. A recent line of thinking in biology is that we are best thought of as symbionts: an almagam of our own cells and lots of different types of bacteria. And by cell count, bacteria actually compose the vast majority of “our” cells. And that goes for basically all large multicellular organisms—not just humans.

Bacteria play an especially prominent role in digestion, where they digest things the animal can’t. Two examples of this are hindgut fermentation in ruminants and the bacteria in our own large intestines. A recent study published in Ecology Letters transplanted fecal matter between rats that could digest a certain toxic shrub (called Creosote) and those that couldn’t. After the fecal transplant, the rats that couldn’t digest Creosote had “a greater ability to feed on these toxins,” according to Kevin Kohl, a researcher at the University of Utah involved in the study.

This research confirmed what was long suspected—that herbivores’ gut bacteria play a significant part in allowing them to digest poisonous plants. This has important implications, such as modifying livestock to be able to eat plentiful plants that they currently can’t eat. One example is Juniper, a plant that’s widespread in Utah but is generally too poisonous for livestock. “There’s been big interest in getting sheep and goats to eat Juniper,” Kohl said. “We think some of these principles could be translated to other plants with different types of toxins and that we could hopefully transplant these bacteria into other species.”

But his study involved rats. For a problem with Nassau rats, give the experts a call so you can rest easy.

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