Large-scale methane measurements on individual ruminants for genetic evaluations
METHAGENE has come to an end! It has been a great journey of 4 years, where multiple disciplines have worked together to come to a way for a large-scale recording of methane emissions of individual ruminants for genetic evaluations. When the idea of METHAGENE was born in 2012, many researchers of different disciplines were targeting to reduce the environmental footprint of animal-derived food using methane mitigation strategies. These strategies included nutrition, microbiological understanding, and improving the animal. Achieving this was very urgent, and there was a need to learn from each other and to create synergies and concensus. Now that METHAGENE has finished, we are proud that we have gained a lot of new insights and that together we moved further than everyone could have moved alone, and the main outcomes are shown in this infographic.
The open discussions involving several disciplines ensured that all aspects were taken into account when defining the methane-determining factors. These factors are important to incorporate when setting up an experiment to record the enteric methane of ruminants. In short, an animal nutritionist should take the variations between animals into account, and the geneticist, contrarily, should take the effects of the different diets into account. The methane-determining factors were the basis for the search for the best proxy for methane. A group of experts met twice, once in warm Catania (+25C) and once in cold Finland (-25C). This group has published an invited review on the several proxies, e.g., related to feed intake, rumen population and milk composition. The expert meetings built trust to share data for a joint analysis on the added value of one proxy above the other one. That is the big advantage of a COST Action, that people get to meet each other and enlarge their network. Especially in an area like this, where data recording is scarce, the only way to move forward is to collaborate and collate data, but that is not easy to arrange when people don't know each other. Several groups have recorded data, but all use different protocols and/or techniques to record the enteric methane of ruminants. Within METHAGENE we have reviewed the techniques and compared them. That results in a unique meta-analysis that will help researchers and breeding companies in the future to collate a large enough dataset for accurate estimates of genetic parameters. These genetic parameters are necessary for incorporating a reduction of the enteric methane in national breeding programmes. Within METHAGENE we have shown the effect of several current breeding programmes on the enteric methane emission, and we have shown what's needed to counteract that effect. However, as long as there is no incentive (e.g., a carbon tax), an environment-friendly breeding programme will not be in place. However, METHAGENE has ensured that the building blocks are ready for use, when there is a need. Bringing the disciplines, experiences and expertise together was essential for this, and METHAGENE has been very successful in that.