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article imageLow-methane kangaroo gas may be key to bovine emissions problem

By Martin Laine     Apr 16, 2014 in Environment
Kangaroos and cows share a similar diet – mostly grasses and other vegetation. Yet, kangaroos give off a relatively low-methane gas whereas cows and other livestock are a major source of the greenhouse gas.
A group of Australian researchers believe they have found the reason why, and are now working on a way to make cow emissions more eco-friendly, according to the current issue of Science News. The full study was published in last month’s ISME Journal.
The researchers harvested digestive microbes from three wild eastern gray kangaroos — previously killed by hunters for food. These were bottled and fermented. They did the same for some cow digestive microbes.
Carbon-13, a heavier form, was introduced into the process to help track the route of the carbon.
“The idea is to trace where the carbon goes,” said researcher Scott Godwin of the Queensland Dept. of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in Brisbane, Australia.
In the digestive systems of both kangaroos and cows, the greenery is broken down by fermentation leaving carbon dioxide and hydrogen. But there the similarity ends. In cows, microbes known as methanogens absorb the gases and turn them into methane. In kangaroos, microbes known as acetogens turn the gases into harmless acetates.
In cows, the methanogens are the dominant microbe, though there are acetogens present. Godwin said if a way could be found to boost the presence of acetogens in cows and other livestock, it could make cow gas a little more environmentally friendly.
An expert on livestock gas was a little more cautious.
“It’s an important first study,” said Peter Janssen of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Center. “It’s the clue to where to look.”
More about Methane, Kangaroos, Greenhouse gases
 
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