The Loh Down On Science

Jumping Cows

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Could curbing greenhouse gases involve … kangaroos?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Methane is a major culprit in climate change.  And as much as 25 percent of it comes from domestic ruminants, like cows and sheep.  We’d like to reduce that number, but how do you convince a cow to control its gas?

You don't.  So you turn to kangaroos!  Scientists have long known that kangaroos produce a lot less methane than cows, even though they have a similar diet.  But nobody knew why.

Enter Scott Godwin and fellow researchers in Australia.  They looked into the difference between cows and kangaroos.  While both have a large foregut to ferment all that lovely grass, kangaroo foreguts have different bacteria with different chemistry.  While cow bacteria are making methane, kangaroo bugs make acetate, which is commonly found in vinegar.  Even better, acetate can be reabsorbed by the animal to give it energy.

So now that we know kangaroo bacteria produce less gas, perhaps we can engineer a better bovine.

Then maybe the cow really could jump over the moon.  Without cutting its cheese.  Sorry.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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