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Cows in Glass Boxes Help Scientists Reduce Methane Emissions

31 August 2016

FINLAND - A recent study using cows in glass boxes to measure their emissions found that methane emissions can be linked to genotypes, which may allow scientists to speed up the breeding of more climate-friendly cows.

Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and one third of it is produced by the world's cattle, making it a key target for climate change mitigation.

As part of a project named RuminOmics, led by the University of Aberdeen and funded by the EU, the Natural Resources Institute Finland, in collaboration with ten other European research institutes, investigated the interaction between a ruminant’s genotype, feed, and the microbial make-up of the rumen. The scientists examined the role these factors played in the energy-efficiency of dairy cattle and their methane emissions.

One hundred Ayshire cows visited a glass metabolic chamber, where their methane emissions were measured, as well as their digestion, production characteristics, energy-efficiency and metabolism, and microbial make-up. 

Some cows with low emissions were found to be inefficient, due to their poor digestion of fodder, so the researchers said maintaining cows with better production in the herd for longer was a better solution to the problem of methane emissions than just breeding from low emission cows.

However, the study did identify areas of genetic variation linked to the amount of methane produced per kilo of milk produced, which warrant further investigation.

Johanna Vilkki, professor at Luke, Finland's Natural Resources Institute, said: “We will investigate whether these genes affect the variation in the microbial make-up of cows’ rumen or other characteristics of cows such as the size of their rumen, production level or capability to use fodder.”

 

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