Access keys

Skip to content Accessibility Home News, events and publications Site map Search Privacy policy Help Contact us Terms of use

Award winning Scottish research could pave the way for 'low-emission cows'

Copyright: Mervine Chelmiah on Flickr by CC 2.0
News from: The Roslin Institute

A study that potentially paves the way for the breeding of low-emission livestock has won an internationally respected research prize.

The study is the result of a collaboration involving Scotland’s Rural College, The Roslin Institute and the University of Aberdeen. It identified a genetic link between host animals, the microbial community in their digestive tract and the methane that they produce. The findings could ultimately help farmers respond to the growing global demand for meat, while minimising the associated environmental impact. The results were reported in the international research journal ‘PLOS Genetics’ and won the journal’s 2017 annual prize for outstanding research.

Researchers have for some time discussed the possibility of breeding cattle that generate less methane but it was not known to what extent the cattle genome would influence the make-up of gut microbes. In the winning study, the researchers explored the interactions between an animal’s genetic background, its diet and the composition of its microbial community. They identified microbial community profiles that can be used to recognise cattle that use their feed more efficiently while also emitting less methane.

Professor Rainer Roehe from Scotland’s Rural College said; “In our research, we were surprised to find that the host animals genetics shape its own microbiome to the extent that it does and that this is highly informative when predicting traits like methane emissions and feed conversion efficiency. In the future we expect that the use of gastrointestinal microbial information will have a great impact in animal breeding and that it will also be of great value in medicine and nutritional recommendations that can be tailored to the individual in many different species, including humans.

Professor Mick Watson Director of Agrigenomics at The Roslin Institute said: “We employed a relatively new technique called metagenomics, which involves analysing the genetic composition of an entire organism including the microbes that exist within it. Our study demonstrates the power of combining this approach with big data analysis tool to solve a real world problem - in this case breeding more efficient animals”.


Notes to editors

Reference: Bovine Host Genetic Variation Influences Rumen Microbial Methane Production with Best Selection Criterion for Low Methane Emitting and Efficiently Feed Converting Hosts Based on Metagenomic Gene Abundance PLOS Genetics, 2016.


BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes.

Header image copyright: Mervine Chelmiah on Flickr by CC 2.0.


UK Research and Innovation Media Office

Tags: fundamental bioscience The Roslin Institute farming livestock environmental change news