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Europe Launches $10.1M Study of Cow Stomach Microbiomes and Methane

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The University of Aberdeen will lead a multi-partner effort funded with € 7.7 million ($10.1 million) from the European Commission that will study the gastrointestinal microbial ecosystems of cows to understand their role in methane production.

The partners in the multi-national study seek to identify genes in microbes in the cow's rumen, the first stomach in ruminant grazing animals such as cows, goats, sheep, and others, and genes in the hosts that may be involved in the digestion process and are involved in methane emission. They also will study the role diet and nutrition plays in this system.

Because demand for livestock is on the rise, and because ruminant livestock are "significant contributors" of methane, a greenhouse gas, the partners are looking for technologies that will lower the methane emissions and improve the efficiency of feed, the University of Aberdeen said in a statement.

Lead investigator John Wallace, a professor at the University of Aberdeen's Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, calls the microbiome-focused studies of ruminant animals 'ruminomics'.

"Ruminomics aims to increase the efficiency— and decrease the environmental footprint — of the farming of ruminant livestock, and to significantly advance current knowledge in this sector," Wallace said. "Our aim with this ambitious project is to develop new models and tools to enable the livestock industry to reduce environmental impact from methane and nitrogen emissions, and to improve the nutritional efficiency of the feeds they are using."

One of the Ruminomics program's projects will study the genetics of 1,000 dairy cows to understand the interaction of feed intake, digestion efficiency, milk production, methane emissions, and the ruminal microbiome and host genome. Another effort will investigate how hosts influence the function of microbes in the rumen, and will define how this microbiome differs in host animals that are genetically identical.

Researchers also will develop protocols for studying ruminal microbiomes more accurately, rapidly, and cheaply, refine a method for methane analysis, assess how diet affects these microbes and product quality, and work to ensure that their findings and tools will meet the needs of the farming industry.

The Rowett Institute's partners on the project include research institutes in the Czech Republic, Italy, Finland, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands.