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Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

01 February 2010

NEW ZEALAND - A scientific breakthrough by scientists researching the microbes in the stomach of cows and sheep looks likely to lead to ways that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The work is part of the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium programme (PGgRc) led by the Crown research Institute AgResearch.

Cows, sheep and other ruminant animals produce their methane emissions because of microbes that live in their digestive systems, and the PGgRc funded team has successfully mapped the genetic information of one of the microbes responsible. This discovery will accelerate work altering the methane generation of the organism through vaccine and pharmo-medical interventions.

The findings of Dr Graeme Attwood and his team were published today in noted science journal PLOS One and this makes this ground-breaking research available to the wider scientific community.

‘Methane emissions from sheep and cattle has 21 times the impact of carbon dioxide and is a key target of research aiming to reduce global greenhouse gases. We’re excited by our completion and publication of the genome of the methane-forming microbe (methanogen) concerned, Methanobrevibacter ruminantium, as this opens the door to many methane mitigation options,’ said Dr Attwood.

The Consortium programme is now using the gene sequence information directly in two different ways: an immune system approach which identifies parts of the methanogen that will stimulate salivary antibodies to work against these microbes in the rumen: and a chemogenomics approach which uses small molecule inhibitors that target essential methanogen enzymes,’ said Dr Attwood.

This work is part of a larger comprehensive programme of work funded by the PGgRc, a livestock industry – NZ government partnership which has been researching solutions for methane and nitrous oxide since 2002.

“The information arising from this research will also have wide application across our programmes which include animal breeding and nutrition, and farm system approaches to reduce emissions in cattle, sheep and deer. This is the first ever rumen methanogen genome sequence to be published and we believe it is a significant step towards finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture,’ said PGgRc Chairman Mark Leslie.

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