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.

Development of Multiwell-Plate Methods Using Pure Cultures of Methanogens To Identify New Inhibitors for Suppressing Ruminant Methane Emissions

Weimar, M. R., Cheung, J., Dey, D., McSweeney, C., Morrison, M., Kobayashi, Y., . . . Cook, G. M. (2017). Development of Multiwell-Plate Methods Using Pure Cultures of Methanogens To Identify New Inhibitors for Suppressing Ruminant Methane Emissions. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 83(15)


Hydrogenotrophic methanogens typically require strictly anaerobic culturing conditions in glass tubes with overpressures of H2 and CO2 that are both time-consuming and costly. To increase the throughput for screening chemical compound libraries, 96-well microtiter plate methods for the growth of a marine (environmental) methanogen Methanococcus maripaludis strain S2 and the rumen methanogen Methanobrevibacter species AbM4 were developed. A number of key parameters (inoculum size, reducing agents for medium preparation, assay duration, inhibitor solvents, and culture volume) were optimized to achieve robust and reproducible growth in a high-throughput microtiter plate format. The method was validated using published methanogen inhibitors and statistically assessed for sensitivity and reproducibility. The Sigma-Aldrich LOPAC library containing 1,280 pharmacologically active compounds and an in-house natural product library (120 compounds) were screened against M. maripaludis as a proof of utility. This screen identified a number of bioactive compounds, and MIC values were confirmed for some of them against M. maripaludis and M. AbM4. The developed method provides a significant increase in throughput for screening compound libraries and can now be used to screen larger compound libraries to discover novel methanogen-specific inhibitors for the mitigation of ruminant methane emissions.

IMPORTANCE: Methane emissions from ruminants are a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, and new technologies are required to control emissions in the agriculture technology (agritech) sector. The discovery of small-molecule inhibitors of methanogens using high-throughput phenotypic (growth) screening against compound libraries (synthetic and natural products) is an attractive avenue. However, phenotypic inhibitor screening is currently hindered by our inability to grow methanogens in a high-throughput format. We have developed, optimized, and validated a high-throughput 96-well microtiter plate assay for growing environmental and rumen methanogens. Using this platform, we identified several new inhibitors of methanogen growth, demonstrating the utility of this approach to fast track the development of methanogen-specific inhibitors for controlling ruminant methane emissions.

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