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Posted 14 APRIL 2009

Fish oils reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ‘flatulent cows’

At a recent meeting of the Society for General Microbiology, researchers from University College Dublin reported that by including 2% fish oil in the diet of cattle they achieved a reduction in the amount of methane released by the animals. Lowering methane emissions is important for the environment, as methane given off by farm animals is a major contribution to greenhouse gas levels.

More than a third of all methane emissions, around 900 billion tonnes per year are produced by methanogen bacteria that live in the digestive systems of ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats. By volume, methane is 20 times more powerful at trapping solar energy than carbon dioxide making it a potent greenhouse gas.

“The fish oil affects the methane-producing bacteria in the rumen part of the cow’s gut, leading to reduced emissions,” said Dr Lorraine Lillis, from the UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science, one of the researchers who presented the findings.

“Understanding which microbial species are particularly influenced by changes in diet and relating them to methane production could bring about a more targeted approach to reducing methane emissions in animals.”

The analysis was carried out in collaboration with UCD PhD student Kirstie Petrie under the supervision of Dr Tommy Boland from the UCD School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine

Approximately 50% of Irish agricultural methane emissions result from farm animals; there have been suggestions that, to help combat global warming, a cap be placed on the number of animals in animal production due to their methane production but with a reduction in methane levels through diet this may not be as necessary.

The Society for General Microbiology is the largest microbiology society in Europe, and has over 5,500 members worldwide. The Society provides a common meeting ground for scientists working in research and fields with applications in microbiology including veterinary medicine, pharmaceuticals, industry, agriculture, food, the environment and education.

Image courtesy of Dr David Kenny, UCD School of Agriculture, Food Science & Veterinary Medicine. © UCD 2008, UCD Images of Research. 

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Fish oils reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ‘flatulent cows’