Methane Blocker May End|Cows’ Role in Climate Change

     (CN) — Researchers may have discovered a way to limit the methane produced by livestock, a significant and often overlooked contributor to climate change.
     Ruminants including cows, sheep and goats digest through fermentation by microorganisms within their stomachs. This process creates various organic acids that are absorbed and metabolized by the organism for energy.
     However, it also produces methane, which cattle release as flatulence into the atmosphere. Ruminants produce about 30 percent of the methane released in the United States annually, and methane traps about 25 times as much heat as carbon dioxide does.
     While reducing methane levels is challenging due to the global consumption of meat, a molecule that seems to inhibit the release of methane could play a role in international efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent study by the Spanish National Research Council and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
     To stem the release of methane by ruminants, scientists began testing the effects of the molecule 3-nitrooxypropanol on sheep in 2014. Their results revealed that the molecule inhibits methane release, but the researchers were unsure of how it actually worked.
     Drawing on this research, scientists conducted a new study that demonstrated how 3-nitrooxypropanol only affects methane-producing microorganisms, leaving different bacteria that contribute to digestion unaffected.
     “Up until now, noone had described the mode of action of a compound which can repeatedly reduce — by about 30 percent — methane production in animals without any risks, either to the animal’s health or to their productivity,” David Yanez, a Spanish National Research Council researcher at the Zaidin Experimental Research Centre in Granada, said in a statement.
     The researchers used incubated anaerobic microorganisms from ruminants’ digestive systems to determine exactly how 3-nitrooxypropanol affected ruminants’ digestion.
     In addition to the benefits toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions, using 3-nitrooxypropanol to inhibit methane production will also make feeding ruminants more efficient.
     “We will see an increase in the efficiency of ruminant production systems as better use is made of the energy taken in from animal feed, given that methane production accounts for a loss of up to 12 percent of the energy an animal ingests,” Yanez said.
     Government scientists in India have also been working on methods to reduce methane emissions by ruminants.
     India has more than 280 million cows and 200 million other ruminant animals, which produce about 13 tons of methane annually according to satellite data from the Indian space program.
     Researchers at the Cow Research Institute in Mathura 100 miles south of New Delhi are experimenting with cattle feed in order to develop a formula that will create less gas for cows to belch, which is how most methane is released by ruminants.
     E.M. Muhammed, a breeding expert in the southern state of Kerala, is working with other researchers to isolate a gene in indigenous miniature cows’ DNA. The plan is to create a larger population of such cattle, which produce one-tenth the amount of methane and one-seventh as much manure as typically sized cows — and they can better handle warmer temperatures.
     Reducing ruminant flatulence is particularly important for India, since it is expected to double its greenhouse gas-emitting coal production by 2019.

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