Cows that are genetically modified to produce less methane could have a major impact on climate change, a new study has found.
Scientists discovered that methane-producing microbes in cow stomachs are actually inherited by cows and think that selective breeding of cows that produce less of the greenhouse gas could cut methane emissions down by 50%.
Methane, which is produced by cows as they digest their food, is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and therefore traps more heat.
Greenhouse gases trap heat from the sun’s rays in the Earth’s atmosphere, and the thicker the layer of gas gets, the hotter the Earth will become.
As cows and increased cattle farming are responsible for causing a lot of this excessive methane, a team of scientists, led by a professor from the University of Aberdeen in the UK, are working toward reducing their impact on climate change.
“We would like to prevent methane emission and to improve the healthiness of fats in meat and milk. Coincidentally, both properties are linked via gut microbial activities,” said study author John Wallace, from the University of Aberdeen.
“Our research aims are to understand the microorganisms and processes, so that we can change their activities for environmental and health benefits,” he added.
The study involved 1,000 cows across four European countries, including the UK.
The researchers identified a group of genetically inherited gut microbes inside these cows, which help the cows to digest their food and produce methane in the process.
These microbes could be manipulated so that cows produce less of the greenhouse gas.
Selective breeding is one way that the microbes could be manipulated and the researchers now need to work out what cow genes are used during the inheritance process.
So far, they see no downside to trying to reduce bovine methane in this way.
Animal rights activists recently reacted with fury over footage showing cows having their stomachs punctured and fitted with “windows” at Europe’s largest research center.
The hole is created using a surgical procedure called ‘rumen fistula’ and allows researchers to look inside the cow’s digestive system.
It is frequently performed at veterinary schools and is viewed as a benefit for the cows whose health is not adversely impacted by the procedure.
Clips were filmed in the northwestern French department of Sarthe, at the Sourches facility owned by the Sanders Company, a subsidy of French agro-industrial corporation, Avril Group.
Avril spokesperson Tom Doron insists the experiments come with “rigorous veterinary monitoring and are considered painless for the animal.”
They also claim to be studying how to reduce methane production.
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