Business, Economics and Jobs

"Gas-less" roo holds clues to cutting greenhouse emissions


A kangaroo and it's joey are seen on the fairway during day four of the Australian PGA Championship at the Hyatt Regency Coolum on December 12, 2010 at the Sunshine Coast, Australia.


Bradley Kanaris

The humble kangaroo, or more precisely its "down under" activity, has become the focus of groundbreaking research tipped to result in significant ramifications for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.

As the BBC reports, that’s the news from scientists who have delved into the question of why the Tammar wallaby – a member of the kangaroo family – produces much less methane in its burps, flatus and manure than farm animals such as cows.

The diminutive wallaby (Macropus eugenii), found in pockets of Western Australia and on some islands off the coast, processes food without making methane, an important greenhouse gas.

Production of methane by livestock has been a hot topic in the global climate change debate for some time, prompting the UN’s top climate scientist, in 2008, to call on people to consider eating less meat as a way of combating global warming.

According to the new research, published in the journal, Science, the project led by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) discovered the Tammar wallaby ‘harbors unique gut bacteria’ and, as a result, produces one-fifth as much methane as cows for each unit of food ingested.

"The guts of wallabies and cattle have evolved to support the establishment of a complex mixture of microbes, for the 'pre-digestion' of plant materials before the food is exposed to the animal's own digestive processes," CSIRO project leader Mark Morrison told the BBC.

"There are differences between the animals in terms of gut anatomy and shape that we think are also an important influence on methane production, as well as the way and the speed at which plant material moves through this 'pre-digestion' step.

"But our knowledge of that microbiology has been pretty limited until now."

Professor Morrison added that the long-term goal was to "redirect feed digestion in livestock away from methane formation and instead produce more end products that are nutritious for the animal".

"By doing so, we should have a positive impact both on animal productivity and the environment," he said.

The CSIRO-led research project also included contributions from scientists in the US, Norway and Germany.