Low-gas Grass

Cow belches, one of the strangest contributors to global warming, may have an even stranger cure: low-burp grass. Cows’ digestive systems contain special microbes that help break down grass, allowing the animals to subsist on an all-grass diet. But this digestion process also produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, which is released when the cows belch. The burps are so potent that the livestock sector accounts for more than one-third of all methane released by human industries, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Scientists at the Australian biotech firm Gramina Pty Ltd may have found a way to slash this contribution. Led by plant geneticist German Spangenberg, Gramina is modifying certain grasses so they are easier for cows to digest. The key is to engineer the grass to produce less lignin, a particularly indigestible fiber.

Although the research is still in its early stages—the low-fiber grasses won’t hit the market for several years—the firm has already produced prototypes and believes the new grass could eventually reduce cows’ methane emissions by as much as 20 percent. This could be a significant step in the fight against climate change. And it might even improve pasture etiquette. ❧

—Rachel Tompa

 

photo: ©André Gomes/iStock.com

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5 Comments

  • Contents Oct-Dec 2008 (Vol 9, No 4) | Conservation Magazine September 30, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    […] Low-Gas Grass Genetically modified grass could cut greenhouse emissions from cows […]

    Reply

  • Helden February 25, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    In relation to your “low-gas grass” article! How can you call yourself a conservation magazine and allow such crap as this to go to print. Maybe not so much that you condom this grass but definitely for your not revealing the absolute horrors that allowing such GMO mutations to get into our food chain/universe is going to cause us, our children and their children’s children. I am flabbergasted at how you dare to call yourself a conservation magazine by trying to make out that this will help cut global warming! Yer shore at what expense?

    Reply

  • Chris Green March 1, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    RED ALERT TO ALL FARMERS! SAY ‘NO’ TO GMO.
    It’s a silent killer of EVERY LIVING thing.
    Soil, animal and man. Soil death toll can take 200 years to restore. No going back.
    Scientists reports of dangers have been silenced including one who worked for #1 Monster GMO bio-terrorist corporation.

    GMO SEEDS ARE WEAPONS OF MASS STARVATION!
    Agenda – Depopulate …slowly so Big Pharma can make some $$$ along the way
    Google: GM disease epidemics! then visit
    http://www.silentsuperbug.com

    One farmer recently said that methane problem is in Canberra. Not just Canberra, Gov’ts globally are manipulated by big Corporations.
    Sadly conservationists are now sleeping with the enemy too.

    Reply

  • Graham March 1, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    I have often wondered what had become of Dr Frankenstein? Now I know!
    It seems the good doctor is busy creating a new monster…and it’s coming to a dinner plate near you!

    Reply

  • Peter April 27, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Responding to Heldon, I certainly hope that nobody is stuffing grass into condoms, as you suggest in your second sentence. Also, you should have observed that the genetically modified grass (whether it’s in or out of the condom) is being fed to cows, not humans. While you’re busy worrying about GMOs contaminating the universe, cows are still creating enormous levels of methane gas, which is a MAJOR contributor to greenhouse gases. I think I’ll put my money on the low lignin grass project because it is a thoroughly legitimate attempt to address a far greater hazard to the environment than GMOs.

    Reply

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