AgResearch is part of team involved in break-through for agricultural methane mitigation

An international collaboration led by New Zealand scientists has made an important discovery in the quest to help lower methane emissions from animals. The findings have just been published online in the respected International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal. See here.

Methane emissions from animals account for around a third of New Zealand’s emissions. The animal itself does not produce methane; rather, a group of microbes, called methanogens, live in the stomach (rumen), and produce methane mainly from hydrogen and carbon dioxide when digesting feed.

The international team which involved researchers from AgResearch (New Zealand), the Universities of Otago (New Zealand), Monash (Australia), Illinois (USA) and Hokkaido (Japan) has for the first time identified the main rumen microbes and enzymes that both produce and consume that hydrogen. Continue reading

Applying maths to methane to learn more about rumen systems and how to reduce emissions

A research project combining the disciplines of biology and mathematics—funded by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre—is set to boost scientific knowledge of methane, rumen systems and the mitigation of greenhouse gases.

Yuancheng (James) Wang is graduating from Massey University this month with a PhD in mathematics. His multidisciplinary thesis saw him apply his mathematical knowledge to a topic that was entirely new to him: rumen microbiology.

He developed a mathematical model that describes the interactions between microbes in the rumen and their food source.

“My model was also able to take into account the impact of the rumen environment on those interactions, which existing models designed to estimate methane production did not consider,” he says.

The results provided by his mathematical model were consistent with biological expectations and the model could be expanded to include other factors influencing methane production, such as feeding level and frequency.

While James’ project focused on methane-producing microbes (methanogens), he says his model will be able to be used in conjunction with models describing other parts of the rumen system, which will provide the full picture of rumen function.

James says there are real benefits of applying mathematical modelling to biological systems.

“Modelling means you can explore interactions that occur in the rumen system in ways you cannot do in experiments, and you can test your knowledge to uncover any gaps,” he says.

“It’s also very cost-effective as it allows you to perform multiple experiments to understand what might happen in rumen systems, before designing and carrying out much more expensive animal trials.”

His PhD was supervised by Drs Peter Janssen and David Pacheco from AgResearch, who provided guidance on the how the rumen functions, along with Dr Tammy Lynch and Associate Professor Bruce Van Brunt from Massey’s Institute of Fundamental Science who supervised the mathematical component of the research.

James says he never thought his background in mathematics would see him end up working in agricultural science.

“I’ve always been aware that mathematics can be applied to virtually any discipline, and it just happened that I got into this one which I’ve found extremely interesting,” he says.

“I’ve really enjoyed learning about greenhouse gases—at the moment it’s a very critical topic for New Zealand, so it’s been great to be at the forefront of this science to help boost the knowledge a little.”

His work is being prepared for publication in a science journal.

James has moved back to Qingdao, China, to look for work and to be closer to family after more than a decade away from home.

Source: New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre