New Enemy in Climate Fight: Methane-Heavy Sheep Burps

Methane from livestock may cause more emissions than automobiles
By Clay Dillow,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 26, 2009 11:09 AM CST
New Enemy in Climate Fight: Methane-Heavy Sheep Burps
Fuzzy friend, or silent killer? Livestock, mostly sheep, account for 48% of New Zealand's greenhouse-gas emissions.   (AP Photo)

Big oil, coal-fired power plants, automakers and now sheep: As governments look to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, researchers are looking seriously at livestock, believed to contribute more than cars via the methane gas they belch during digestion, the Wall Street Journal reports. To that end, researchers in New Zealand are trying everything from altering diets to altering genetics to create less-gassy sheep.

To convert more energy from grasses, livestock like cows and sheep have a unique digestions process that produces hydrogen, which microbes called methanogens convert into methane. That methane accounts for 48% of New Zealand’s greenhouse-gas emissions (compared to 10% in the US). No major breakthroughs in methane reduction yet, but the recent mapping of the methanogens’ genome holds promise for a less-flatulent future. (Read more New Zealand stories.)

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