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Microbe Genes Could Curb Livestock Burps

Ruminant methane alone accounts for 31% of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions.

Ruminant methane alone accounts for 31% of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions.

By Graeme Attwood

The DNA sequence of a microbe that produces methane in ruminants provides a target for vaccines and other drugs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.

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Since their first domestication about 10,000 years ago, cattle, sheep, deer and goats have provided meat, milk and fibre for human use. Products derived from these ruminants are more commonly used than most people realise, with proteins derived from ruminants found in thousands of items ranging from sports drinks and processed foods to products used in oriental remedies.

However, the multi-chambered stomachs that ruminants have evolved to digest plant material produce large amounts of methane – a greenhouse gas that is an important agent of climate change. Our research is focused on understanding the microbes in the rumen that produce methane by sequencing the genomes of the most significant species of these “methanogens” in order to identify common features that can be targeted to knock-out methanogen activity. We have recently published the genome sequence of Methanobrevibacter ruminantium (Fig. 1), which is one of the main methanogens found in the rumen, and have begun to identify genes as targets for methane mitigation technologies.

Ruminant Digestion
Ruminants evolved around 54 million years ago, and their subsequent success as a group is based on their unique digestive systems. The rumen is adapted to hold large amounts of plant material and to digest it via the action of symbiotic microbes that live there. The microbes produce...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Dr Graeme Attwood is Program Leader of the Rumen Microbial Genomics team within AgResearch, which is sequencing and analysing the genomes of rumen methanogens for the New Zealand Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium.