Back in October I posted a piece on cow guts. In it I mentioned two avenues to remediation of methane evolution from ruminant guts, the methane affecting atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and global warming (a hot topic). Due credit was given to research to modify the cows through breeding, and to changing cow rations through the choice of plants fed to them (seaweed in the study cited there).
Michelle took exception to the cow breeding effort, and she knows something of cattle… but I’m from the school of ‘If it works, give it a shot’*. And while some livestock breeding efforts can result in bizarre critters, tweaking their genes so their gut microbial flora are less offensive doesn’t appear at first blush to belong in the category.
Earlier today I was tracking down a reference in a plant science paper of interest and through some sort of serendipity stumbled onto a paper whose title begins: Climate Clever Clovers. Really. Alliteration can be tough enough one letter deep; two letters – well, I’m impressed. Fortunately, these clovers are not cleistogamous or the authors’ cleverness could have gone even further. The paper is out of Australia, the clover in question is Subterranean (Trifolium subterraneum), and the breeding approach is quite sensible. AND – their method is not specific to Subterranean clover… so one might imagine work on alfalfa, other clovers, heck – even soybean (which is occasionally used as emergency forage for ruminants) could be coming along in the future.
In the introduction section of their paper the authors note:
Methane production is influenced more by feed characteristics than animal genetic factors (EPA, 1995). The chemical composition of feed, in particular, is a major driver of ‘methanogenic potential’ (the amount of methane produced by rumen microbes during fermentation of feed), and dietary supplementation with fat and plant secondary metabolites have been shown to reduce enteric methanogenesis (Grainger and Beauchemin, 2011; Tang et al., 2014). As the response to direct selection of animals for low methanogenic potential in the rumen is likely to be slow (Shi et al., 2014), the methanogenic potential trait in pastures is a strong candidate for marker-assisted selection (MAS).
And so long as we’re pointing out fascinating coincidences – the Shi et al. paper is about sheep. I haven’t checked, but if Dr. Shi is female, I’d have to excuse myself until such time as I might recover. But I digress.
Now the seaweed story cited earlier needs to take a step back. This clover technology is simpler in implementation – no need to have an ocean frothing about in your back yard. Cows are already used to eating clovers, farmers are already used to seeding clovers in their pastures. Clovers are legumes, so they’ll do some natural nitrogen fixation. Clever, clever, clever.
Has the planet thus been spared from anthropogenic global warming? Dunno mate, lets put a brisket on the barbie, crack open a beer, share some dairy products and have a look see. Whatdayasay??
And yes, Brian… this is three in a week. Haven’t yet figured what that is all about. It just is.
*not affiliated with the school of hard knocks. Accreditation may also be suspect – but the tuition is very reasonable.