The NZAGRC methane programme is jointly planned and funded in partnership with the PGgRc and aligns with existing MPI programmes funded through SLMACC and New Zealand funding in support of the Global Research Alliance on agricultural greenhouse gases. It aims to reduce emissions by directly targeting the methane producing methanogens through the discovery of small molecule inhibitors and vaccines and indirectly through feeding and changes in animal phenotype.
Breeding: Research to understand the genetics of host control of ruminant methane emissions, which aims to develop genetic and genomic selection technologies to reduce methane yield and intensity in sheep. The current stage of the programme involves the development and dissemination of practical tools for selection for lowered emissions. A major part of maximising impact and uptake is to explore relative economic value from increased production and potential increased feed utilisation associated with lowered methane
Vaccine (jointly supported by PGgRc): A prototype vaccine (which after further development is aimed at producing a vaccine targeted at reducing methane emissions in cattle and sheep by 20%) is being formulated with the help of a commercial partner
Inhibitors (previously jointly funded but now fully funded by PGgRc): Research to develop cost-effective inhibitors that reduce methane emissions by at least 20% in sheep and cattle—without reducing productivity—is now being developed, with a view to bring the technology to market
Modelling: A tool to help scientists in the NZAGRC/PGgRc programme to develop hypotheses and predict responses in methane formation is in its final stages
Current progress and research stories
The current objectives within the NZAGRC methane programme have made significant progress this year, with the sheep breeding programme getting closer to delivering breeding values to the national flock.
Gene network analysis identifies rumen epithelial cell proliferation, differentiation and metabolic pathways perturbed by diet and correlated with methane production
Xiang, R., J. McNally, et al. (2016). "Gene network analysis identifies rumen epithelial cell proliferation, differentiation and metabolic pathways perturbed by diet and correlated with methane production." 6: 39022.
Ruminants obtain nutrients from microbial fermentation of plant material, primarily in their rumen, a multilayered forestomach. How the different layers of the rumen wall respond to diet and influence microbial fermentation, and how these process are regulated, is not well understood. Gene expression correlation networks were constructed from full thickness rumen wall transcriptomes of 24 sheep fed two different amounts and qualities of a forage and measured for methane production. The network contained two major negatively correlated gene sub-networks predominantly representing the epithelial and muscle layers of the rumen wall. Within the epithelium sub-network gene clusters representing lipid/oxo-acid metabolism, general metabolism and proliferating and differentiating cells were identified. The expression of cell cycle and metabolic genes was positively correlated with dry matter intake, ruminal short chain fatty acid concentrations and methane production. A weak correlation between lipid/oxo-acid metabolism genes and methane yield was observed. Feed consumption level explained the majority of gene expression variation, particularly for the cell cycle genes. Many known stratified epithelium transcription factors had significantly enriched targets in the epithelial gene clusters. The expression patterns of the transcription factors and their targets in proliferating and differentiating skin is mirrored in the rumen, suggesting conservation of regulatory systems.