It’s been a hard week (read year) filled with strife, heartbreak, and insurmountable problems. From hurricanes to earthquakes to the threat of nuclear war, there seems to be a new complex, multifaceted, geopolitical enigma to solve every minute. But, some Scottish geneticists may have found an interesting solution to help mitigate the climate change problem.
A warming planet is caused by various chemicals like carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gasses insulating the planet, keeping the Sun’s rays tight to the Earth like a nice, snuggly death blanket around the planet. The main solution to climate change is to reduce the emissions of these gasses to keep them out of the atmosphere. While carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas emission, methane is 20 to 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. So, geneticists thought that if we could curb our methane emissions, we can sorta save the planet. The second largest methane emitter? Well, it's, erm…cow farts. And burps too.
The hope of the study was to look at how genetics impact both the efficiency of digestion and the subsequent amount of methane produced. Instead of sticking the cows in fart chambers to calculate the methane production, they looked at the rumen, the main bovine digestive organ, to find the Archaea-to-bacteria ratio. Archaea, single-celled microorganisms that are different than bacteria and eukaryotes (the stuff that makes up plants and animals), are the primary producers of methane. Further, the Archaea-to-bacteria ratio is a genetic trait, meaning breeders can choose to make low-emission cows and reduce the amount of methane sent to the atmosphere. They found that genetics were the primary factor contributing to methane emission, even more so than diet.
The researchers also predicted that low-emission beef production would be more cost effective to farmers as digestion would be more effective, and more bacteria in the gut means more omega-3 fatty acids in the cows. Healthier cows, more health benefits to people, more money for farmers, less of a carbon footprint.
While there are numerous factors that can contribute to differences in the rumen and more validating research is needed, environmentally conscious herbivores and omnivores can rejoice that perhaps someday there could be a green steak in the future. (Not literally green in color though. That would be gross.)