Scientists Devise Way to Clean Up Cow Burps

Small molecule could also curb greenhouse gas emissions
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2015 8:31 AM CDT
Scientists Devise Way to Clean Up Cow Burps
Cows graze in the sunset off of Lee Highway in Mount Sidney, Va., on March 31, 2015.   (AP Photo/Daily News-Record, Austin Bachand)

Cows are notorious methane gas producers, belching somewhere between 132 and 264 gallons of gas produced by food fermenting in the rumen (one of the four parts of their stomachs) every day. As the Washington Post reports, that's so significant that ruminant animals—including sheep and goats—actually contribute a quarter of the country's total methane emissions, which is a top greenhouse gas. So the Dutch life sciences and materials company DSM has partnered with Penn State to develop a powder to add to cow feed that it reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences produces a 30% reduction in methane emissions.

DSM says it's achieved this without harming the animal, its performance (i.e., milk production), or how much food it eats. Here's how it works. By feeding 3-nitrooxypropanol (a small molecule referred to as 3NOP) to dairy cows, it inhibits an enzyme called methyl-coenzyme M reductase that's used by cow gut bacteria to digest grass but produces methane in the process, reports Scientific American. It's not the first to help reduce this methane production, but it's the first that appears safe for the animal and the environment. It also helps the cows gain weight, since 7% of the energy in their food goes toward methane alone. Whether this weight gain improves milk production needs further study. (Meanwhile, is methane causing earthquakes?)

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