Researchers with the Energy Department's Joint Genome Institute wanted to find out exactly why animals of the same species produce different levels of methane. The ultimate hope of the the research is to find ways to breed livestock that produce less methane when they pass gas.
"The deep sequencing study contributes to this breeding program by defining the microbial contribution to the methane trait, which can be used in addition to methane measurements to assist in animal selection," said senior scientist Graeme Attwood with AgResearch Limited, a senior author on the paper.
JGI researchers looked at the methane emissions of 22 sheep that are part of a breeding program in New Zealand that aims to breed sheep that emit less methane. They found that sheep with low methane-emitting flatulence had elevated levels of Methanosphaera — a species of methanogen. Sheep with high methane-emitting flatulence had elevated levels of the methanogen Methanobrevibacter gottschalkii.