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.

What are the role of methanogens?

Methanogens belong to a group of ancient microbes known as archaea. They have evolved hundreds of millions of years ago and occupy oxygen-free niches such as peat bogs and anaerobic gut systems.

In the rumen, methanogens modify the fermentation process, but they are not thought to be essential to the host animal. They are opportunists, taking advantage of one of the by-products of fermentation in the rumen: hydrogen gas. This provides an energy source
and methanogens combine it with carbon dioxide to produce methane and water. The methane is released into the atmosphere when the animal belches. The methanogens’ use of hydrogen represents a loss of dietary energy to the animal. The small blue cells in the image below methanogen cells in the gut contents of a sheep. 

p16_methanogen.jpg

Read more about enteric fermentation

Read more about NZ methane mitigation research


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