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.

Principal Investigator - Dr Graeme Attwood

Dr Graeme Attwood, who is a Principal Investigator in the NZAGRC, completed a PhD in Australia and a post-doc in the USA before coming home to New Zealand to further his career.

Graeme completed BSc and MSc degrees at the University of Waikato and a PhD on genetics of rumen bacteria at the University of Adelaide, South Australia. He conducted post-doctoral work at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, USA, studying cellulases from fibre-degrading rumen bacteria before returning to New Zealand in 1993 to take up a position in Rumen Microbiology with AgResearch.

Graeme formed the Rumen Microbial Genomics team in 2002, which has used genomic and metagenomics approaches to characterise enzyme systems used by rumen microbes to breakdown forage material and to also to investigate rumen methanogens to identify specific gene targets for the reduction of ruminant methane.

He is currently a Principal Scientist in the Animal Science group at the Grasslands campus of AgResearch based in Palmerston North, along with his role as a Principal Investigator for the NZAGRC.

His work in methane (CH4) mitigation aims to reduce methane emissions directly by identifying targets in methanogens to enable development of inhibitors and vaccines, and indirectly through diets and changes in animal phenotype.

He currently leads three methane-related research projects targeting ruminant methane emissions -- a Global Partnership in Livestock Emissions Research (GPLER4) project investigating hydrogen and methyl-compound formation in the rumen as an intervention to reduce the supply of these substrates to methanogens; and two European Research Area Gas (ERA-GAS) funded projects looking at developing a rumen microbial marker gene assay to estimate methane emissions from animals, and testing lactic acid bacteria as potential control agents for ruminal methane.

Outside work, Graeme’s main interests include fly fishing for trout and salmon on rivers and lakes, sea fishing around our coasts and tramping with his wife around all parts of NZ.

He also runs red deer on a lifestyle block which takes up most of his other time, when he is not following rugby or cricket.


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