12 Apr 2010

Genetic basis for animal methane emissions studied

1:17 pm on 12 April 2010

AgResearch scientists are exploring the possibility of breeding farm animals that produce lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientists John McEwan and Dr Cesar Pinares are heading a project to find out whether sheep identified as low-methane producers are able to pass those traits to their off-spring.

It's one of a raft of programmes that the Government and agricultural sector are funding to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.

New Zealand is recognised as a leader in this field. With the Netherlands, it's co-ordinating the livestock research group set up under the new global alliance on agricultural greenhouse gas research which held its first meeting in Wellington last week.

John McEwan says the expanded sheep study that he and Dr Pinares are working on developed from an earlier project to measure methane emissions from dairy cattle.

Over next three years, he says, they hope to evaluate 1000 animals from about 100 different sires, to get good estimates of the genetic basis for the variation in methane emissions, and find the relationship of that trait with the productive characteristics of the sheep.

Mr McEwan says any breeding pogramme to produce low methane livestock would need to ensure it didn't compomise other production characteristics.

He says there's been plenty of research on the effect of diet on on emissions, but work on the genetic basis is in its infancy.