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.

Buccal swabbing as a non-invasive method to determine bacterial, archaeal, and eukaryotic microbial community structure in the rumen

Kittelmann, S., M. R. Kirk, et al. (2015). "Buccal Swabbing as a Noninvasive Method To Determine Bacterial, Archaeal, and Eukaryotic Microbial Community Structures in the Rumen." Applied and Environmental Microbiology 81(21): 7470-7483.

Analysis of rumen microbial community structure based on small-subunit rRNA marker genes in metagenomic DNA samples provides important insights into the dominant taxa present in the rumen and allows assessment of community differences between individuals or in response to treatments applied to ruminants. However, natural animal-to-animal variation in rumen microbial community composition can limit the power of a study considerably, especially when only subtle differences are expected between treatment groups. Thus, trials with large numbers of animals may be necessary to overcome this variation. Because ruminants pass large amounts of rumen material to their oral cavities when they chew their cud, oral samples may contain good representations of the rumen microbiota and be useful in lieu of rumen samples to study rumen microbial communities. We compared bacterial, archaeal, and eukaryotic community structures in DNAs extracted from buccal swabs to those in DNAs from samples collected directly from the rumen by use of a stomach tube for sheep on four different diets. After bioinformatic depletion of potential oral taxa from libraries of samples collected via buccal swabs, bacterial communities showed significant clustering by diet (R = 0.37; analysis of similarity [ANOSIM]) rather than by sampling method (R = 0.07). Archaeal, ciliate protozoal, and anaerobic fungal communities also showed significant clustering by diet rather than by sampling method, even without adjustment for potentially orally associated microorganisms. These findings indicate that buccal swabs may in future allow quick and noninvasive sampling for analysis of rumen microbial communities in large numbers of ruminants.

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