U.S. Government Funds Sheep Research in New Zealand
June 27, 2014

The U.S. government funded research into methane emissions from sheep digestive systems - flatulence and burps - to see why some sheep produce more of the greenhouse gas than others.

Researchers with the Energy Department's Joint Genome Institute (JGI) located in California wanted to find out exactly why animals of the same species produce different levels of methane. The ultimate hope of the research is to find ways to breed livestock that produce less methane when they pass gas.

"The deep sequencing study contributes to this breeding program by defining the microbial contribution to the methane trait, which can be used in addition to methane measurements to assist in animal selection," said senior scientist Graeme Attwood with AgResearch Limited, a senior author on the paper.

JGI researchers looked at the methane emissions of 22 sheep that are part of a breeding program in New Zealand that aims to breed sheep that emit less methane. They found that sheep with low methane-emitting flatulence had elevated levels of Methanosphaera - a species of methanogen. Sheep with high methane-emitting flatulence had elevated levels of the methanogen Methanobrevibacter gottschalkii.

Researchers "then identified a methane-producing pathway and three variants of a gene encoding an important methane-forming reaction that were involved in elevated methane yields," according to JGI.

"We wanted to understand why some sheep produce a lot and some produce little methane," said JGI Director Eddy Rubin. "The study shows that it is purely the microbiota responsible for the difference."

"There needs to be an incentive for farmers to incorporate low methane animals into their flocks, that is, achieving better performance with the low methane animals or being able to claim carbon credits," said Attwood. "If everything went well, you could expect introduction of the low methane trait to begin in three years and for there to be slow but incremental changes to the sheep industry in subsequent years," he added.

The complete article is available at http://dailycaller.com/2014/06/23/feds-research-breeding-sheep-with-lower-methane-emitting-flatulence/#ixzz35raF9D3E.