“Lots of scientists are working on this but it’s not easy,” said Dr. Tim McAllister, referring to research into the reduction of methane production from dairy cows. Greenhouse gas emissions are a major concern for the dairy industry as it strives for sustainability and methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Reducing the production of methane would go a long way toward meeting emissions targets.
The microbial population in the rumen breaks down fiber in stages. Several different groups of bacteria have parts to play. Step by step, complex polymers like cellulose and lignin are broken down into, starches and then sugars and finally fatty acids that can be used by the animal.
Hydrogen is one of the waste products produced during this process and methanogens remove hydrogen by converting carbon dioxide to methane. If the hydrogen is not removed digestion is hindered and productivity drops. That is the catch, how to reduce methane production and still get rid of the hydrogen? Dr. McAllister spoke to us during Dairy Solutions Symposium about efforts to solve this problem and the tools that genomics offer.
Dr. McAllister is principal research scientist for Agriculture and Agri-food Canada at the Lethbridge Research Centre in Alberta. His work is focused on rumen microbiology, ruminant nutrition, microbial ecology and measurement of greenhouse gas emissions from ruminants.