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Name: Richard D.
Status: student
Age: 16
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Monday, September 30, 2002

How do herbivores digest cellulose?

They do not. They have cellulose digesting organisms in their digestive tract. The organisms get a source of food and shelter and the herbivores get nutrients. This is an example of a mutualistic relationship-one in which both organisms benefit.


They have an enzyme (a type of protein) that can bind to cellulose and break it down. Our DNA does not encode this enzyme, so we do not make it. That is the short answer. The longer version is that SOME herbivores, like cows, do not make the enzyme either, but host a nice collection of microorganisms, that live in their digestive tract, that DO make the enzyme. So the microorganisms break down the cellulose, the cow gets the food value of the broken down food, and the microorganisms get a nice warm, safe place to live: everybody benefits. Termites do the same thing: they have a microorganism the lives in the gut, that can break down cellulose. Paul Mahoney, PhD

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