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.

Methane yield phenotypes linked to differential gene expression in the sheep rumen microbiome

Shi, W., C. Moon, et al. (2014). "Methane yield phenotypes linked to differential gene expression in the sheep rumen microbiome." Genome Research.


Ruminant livestock represent the single largest anthropogenic source of the potent greenhouse gas methane, which is generated by methanogenic archaea residing in ruminant digestive tracts. While differences between individual animals of the same breed in the amount of methane produced have been observed, the basis for this variation remains to be elucidated. To explore the mechanistic basis of this methane production, we measured methane yields from 22 sheep, which revealed that methane yields are a reproducible quantitative trait. Deep metagenomic and metatranscriptomic sequencing demonstrated the presence of methanogens both in the highest and lowest methane-producing sheep, with a similar abundance of methanogens and methanogenesis pathway genes in high and low methane emitters. However, transcription of methanogenesis pathway genes was substantially increased in sheep with high methane yields. These results identify a discrete set of rumen methanogens whose methanogenesis pathway transcription profiles correlate with methane yields and provide new targets for CH4 mitigation at the levels of microbiota composition and transcriptional regulation.

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