Scientists on climate

Scientists from across Europe are gathering in Aberdeen this week to draw up a programme of research aimed at mitigating some of the causes of climate change.

The new, collaborative, large-scale project named ‘Ruminomics’ has been commissioned under the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme: Food, Agriculture, Fisheries and Biotechnology.

The 7.7 million, four-year project is a partnership between 11 European organisations, and will be coordinated by Professor John Wallace of the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, UK.

The demand for livestock products is growing, and the health of the farming industry is vital to the sustainability of rural communities. Farm animals are however significant contributors to the emission of the ‘greenhouse gas’ methane, but there is still much uncertainty around how this happens.

Methane is produced by ruminant animals, such as cows, as an end product of the digestion of forages and concentrate feeds by microbes within the animal’s rumen (stomach). Ruminants also use feed protein inefficiently, leading to both pollution and to further greenhouse gas production.

Therefore, technologies that will lower these methane emissions - and improve the efficiency of feed - will form a key strategy in mitigating the environmental impact of the farming of ruminant livestock.

Professor Wallace explains the aims of the collaboration as follows: “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.

“The project will exploit state-of-the-art technologies to understand how ruminant gastrointestinal microbial ecosystems - called microbiomes - are controlled by the host animal, and by their diet, and how this impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, efficiency and product quality.

“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.”