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American Naturalist

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Abstract/ Summary

Animal guts have been idealized as axially uniform plug-flow reactors (PFRs) without significant axial mixing or as combinations in series of such PFRs with other reactor types. To relax these often unrealistic assumptions and to provide a means for relaxing others, I approximated an animal gut as a series of n continuously stirred tank reactors (CSTRs) and examined its performance as a Function of n. For the digestion problem of hydrolysis and absorption in series, I suggest as a first approximation that a tubular gut of length L and diameter D comprises n=L/D tanks in series. For n greater than or equal to 10, there is little difference between performance of the nCSTR model and an ideal PFR in the coupled tasks of hydrolysis and absorption. Relatively thinner and longer guts, characteristic of animals feeding on poorer forage, prove more efficient in both conversion and absorption by restricting axial mixing, in the same total volume, they also give a higher rate of absorption. I then asked how a fixed number of absorptive sites should be distributed among the n compartments. Absorption rate generally is maximized when absorbers are concentrated in the hindmost few compartments, but high food quality or suboptimal ingestion rates decrease the advantage of highly concentrated absorbers. This modeling approach connects gut function and structure at multiple scales and can be extended to include other nonideal reactor behaviors observed in real animals.

Citation/Publisher Attribution

Jumars PA. Animal Guts as Nonideal Chemical Reactors: Partial Mixing and Axial Variation in Absorption Kinetics. American Naturalist. 2000;155(4): 544-555. Available online at

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Copyright 2000 by University of Chicago Press




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