A hefty slice of global GHG emissions come from the smelly bodily functions of livestock. Globally, livestock are responsible for burping (and a small amount from farting) the methane equivalent of 3.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, up to 14% of all greenhouse emissions from human activities.
Methane-reducing cow vaccine
Sinead C. Leahy, a microbiologist leading a team at AgResearch Ltd, one of New Zealand’s largest Crown Research Institutes, have developed a vaccine against certain gut microbes that are responsible for producing methane as the animals digest their food, in an effort to allow us to continue eating meat and dairy products while lessening the impact the livestock industry has on the environment.
The methane produced by ruminants comes from some 3% of the vast number of microbes that live in the rumen, the first section of the gut. The guilty organisms belong to an ancient group called the archaea, and they are capable of living in environments where there is no oxygen.
To weed out the bacteria responsible, however, Leahy and her colleagues had to find a way of reproducing the oxygen-free conditions of the rumen in their laboratory. Using DNA technology, they were then able to sequence the genomes of some of the key species.
Given by injection, the vaccine is designed to stimulate the animals’ output of anti-archaea antibodies in their saliva, which is then carried into the rumen as the animals swallow. AgResearch scientists have identified five different animal-safe compounds that can reduce methane emissions from sheep and cattle by 30% to 90%.
In the Netherlands, Stephane Duval and a team at DSM, have developed a compound called enzyme inhibitor 3-nitrooxypropanol (NOP) which reduces livestock methane emissions by more than one-third. The compound has an effect similar to other compounds being worked on by AgResearch, and the universities of Otago and Auckland. (dsm.com)
Another option is to give cattle probiotics, or helpful bacteria, to aid their digestion. Elizabeth Latham, a former researcher at Texas A&M University and co-founder of Bezoar Laboratories, has been developing a probiotic to tackle methane from cattle and claims it can reduce emissions by 50%. (bezoarlaboratories.com)
After a three-year experiment with a group of 50 cows, Prof. Itzhak Mizrahi and a team at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in southern Israel have successfully manipulated cows’ microbiome so preventing them from emitting methane. The microbiome is an underexplored area scientifically, yet it exerts great control over many aspects of animal and human physical systems. Microbes begin to be introduced at birth and produce a unique microbiome which then evolves over time.
Mizrahi has also investigated the microbiome of fish and other species to prepare us for a world shaped by climate change. Engineering healthier fish is especially important as the oceans empty of fish and aquaculture becomes the major source of seafood.
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