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.

Vaccination of Sheep with a Methanogen Protein Provides Insight into Levels of Antibody in Saliva Needed to Target Ruminal Methanogens

Subharat S, Shu D, Zheng T, Buddle BM, Kaneko K, et al. (2016) Vaccination of Sheep with a Methanogen Protein Provides Insight into Levels of Antibody in Saliva Needed to Target Ruminal Methanogens. PLOS ONE 11(7): e0159861. 

Methane is produced in the rumen of ruminant livestock by methanogens and is a major contributor to agricultural greenhouse gases. Vaccination against ruminal methanogens could reduce methane emissions by inducing antibodies in saliva which enter the rumen and impair ability of methanogens to produce methane. Presently, it is not known if vaccination can induce sufficient amounts of antibody in the saliva to target methanogen populations in the rumen and little is known about how long antibody in the rumen remains active. In the current study, sheep were vaccinated twice at a 3-week interval with a model methanogen antigen, recombinant glycosyl transferase protein (rGT2) formulated with one of four adjuvants: saponin, Montanide ISA61, a chitosan thermogel, or a lipid nanoparticle/cationic liposome adjuvant (n = 6/formulation). A control group of sheep (n = 6) was not vaccinated. The highest antigen-specific IgA and IgG responses in both saliva and serum were observed with Montanide ISA61, which promoted levels of salivary antibodies that were five-fold higher than the second most potent adjuvant, saponin. A rGT2-specific IgG standard was used to determine the level of rGT2-specific IgG in serum and saliva. Vaccination with GT2/Montanide ISA61 produced a peak antibody concentration of 7 × 1016 molecules of antigen-specific IgG per litre of saliva, and it was estimated that in the rumen there would be more than 104 molecules of antigen-specific IgG for each methanogen cell. Both IgG and IgA in saliva were shown to be relatively stable in the rumen. Salivary antibody exposed for 1–2 hours to an in vitro simulated rumen environment retained approximately 50% of antigen-binding activity. Collectively, the results from measuring antibody levels and stablility suggest a vaccination-based mitigation strategy for livestock generated methane is in theory feasible.

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