EU scientists study genetics behind methane

Methane emissions in cattle could be influenced by individual genes, a new EU study argues. Scientists from across Europe are trying to identify the genetic pattern behind the phenomenon, paving the way for low methane farming.

Professor John Wallace, of the Institute of Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, is leading the EU-commissioned ‘Ruminomics’ project, and believes that isolating the gene responsible for methane emissions in cattle could open the door for farmers to breed more environmentally friendly animals.

He told Meat Trades Journal: “It has been thought for a while that individual animals produce high or low numbers of the micro-organisms responsible for methane. With genetics, we hope to identify the organisms responsible for that and find out if they are inherited. If they are, it means we could breed animals with lower methane emissions.”

According to John Williams of the Parco Tecnologico Padano in Italy, breeding could technically start as soon as scientists find the gene, but precautions must be taken to ensure that removing the gene does not cause collateral damage. “We don’t want to breed an animal that releases less methane but presents another environmental issue or has reduced milk yield. We want to improve the environment, but also welfare and productivity as a package,” he said.

The four-year project will study the genetics of 1,000 dairy cows, and includes the observation of bovine twins to determine how methane emissions vary between two genetically identical animals.

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