An international collaboration led by New Zealand scientists has made an important discovery in the quest to help lower methane emissions from animals, according to an announcement form New Zealand's AgResearch.
The findings were published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal.
AgResearch explained that the animal itself does not produce methane; rather, a group of microbes known as methanogens live in the stomach (rumen) and produce methane mainly from hydrogen and carbon dioxide when digesting feed.
The international team — which involved researchers from AgResearch and the University of Otago in New Zealand, the University of Monash in Australia, the University of Illinois in the U.S. and Hokkaido in Japan — has for the first time identified the main rumen microbes and enzymes that both produce and consume that hydrogen.
The findings are important because scientists can now begin to target the supply of hydrogen to methanogens as a new way of reducing animal methane emissions, AgResearch said. Work will now focus on screening specific compounds that can reduce the supply of hydrogen to the methane producers without compromising animal performance.
The research will also seek to find ways to divert hydrogen away from methanogens towards other rumen microbes that do not make methane, the announcement said.
“We’re really pleased about the progress in this research because it opens up a new approach to reducing livestock methane emissions," research program leader and AgResearch principal scientist Dr. Graeme Attwood said. "This is vital to ... ensure the farming of ruminants is sustainable into the future.”