Methane Research Programme

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.

Exploring rumen methanogen genomes to identify targets for methane mitigation strategies

G.T. Attwood, E. Altermann, W.J. Kelly, S.C. Leahy, L. Zhang, M. Morrison, Exploring rumen methanogen genomes to identify targets for methane mitigation strategies, Animal Feed Science and Technology, Volume 166, 2011, Pages 65-75, ISSN 0377-8401, 

Abstract

Methane emissions from ruminant livestock is generated by the action of methanogenic archaea, mainly in the rumen. A variety of methanogen genera are responsible for CH4 production, including a large group that lacks cultivated representatives. To be generally effective, technologies for reducing ruminant CH4 emissions must target all rumen methanogens to prevent any unaffected methanogen from expanding to occupy the vacated niche. Interventions must also be specific for methanogens so that other rumen microbes can continue normal digestive functions. Thus a detailed knowledge of the diversity and physiology of rumen methanogens is required to define conserved features that can be targeted for methanogen inhibition. Genome sequencing projects are underway in New Zealand and Australia on several ruminal methanogen groups, including representatives of the genera Methanobrevibacter, Methanobacterium, Methanosphaera, Methanosarcina, and the uncultured group, Rumen Cluster C. The completed Methanobrevibacter ruminantium genome and draft sequences from other rumen methanogen species are beginning to allow identification of underlying cellular processes that define these organisms, and is leading to a better understanding of their lifestyles within the rumen. Although the research is mainly at the explorative stage, two types of opportunities for inhibiting methanogens are emerging, being inactivation of conserved methanogen enzymes by screening for, or designing, small inhibitors via a chemogenomics approach, and identifying surface proteins shared among rumen methanogens that can be used as antigens in an anti-methanogen vaccine. Many of the conserved enzyme targets are involved in energy generation via the methanogenesis pathway, while the majority of the conserved surface protein targets are of unknown function. An understanding of the expression and accessibility of these targets within methanogen cells and/or microbial biofilms under ruminal conditions will be required for their development as CH4 production mitigations.

This paper is part of the special issue entitled: Greenhouse Gases in Animal Agriculture – Finding a Balance Between Food and Emissions, Guest Edited by T.A. McAllister, Section Guest Editors: K.A. Beauchemin, X. Hao, S. McGinn and Editor for Animal Feed Science and Technology, P.H. Robinson.

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