What allows some animals to eat grass and leaves that humans can’t digest?



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    Humans lack the enzyme necessary to digest cellulose. Hay and grasses are particularly abundant in cellulose, and both are indigestible by humans (although humans can digest starch). Animals such as termites and herbivores such as cows, koalas, and horses all digest cellulose, but even these animals do not themselves have an enzyme that digests this material. Instead, these animals harbor microbes that can digest cellulose. The termite, for instance, contains protists (singlecelled organisms) called mastigophorans in their guts that carry out cellulose digestion. The species of mastigophorans that performs this service for termites is called Trichonympha, which, interestingly, can cause a serious parasitic infection in humans.

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