Kangaroo-ifying Cows to Fight Global Warming

By Jennifer Barone | December 19, 2007 10:58 am

Carbon dioxide may be the greenhouse gas we hear about most often, and with good reason: It’s by far the most abundant heat-trapping culprit produced by human sources, and it’s also one that individuals can do a lot to reduce.

But methane is actually 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and about 18 percent of methane from human activities is produced in the guts of our livestock (released mostly via belching, not the back end).

Kangaroos, on the other hand, don’t produce the stuff. So now, researchers in Australia want to reduce methane from cattle and sheep by introducing digestive bacteria from kangaroo guts into livestock. They say they’re still a few years away from a successful transfer. Meanwhile, other options under investigation for cutting cow methane include garlic supplements in feed (yum, pre-seasoned beef), or just using feed plants that are easier to digest.

And lest you worry about your own digestive contributions, fear not: according to the EPA, methane emissions from the human body are insignificant.

  • Jennifer

    I am all about science saving us from ourselves, but that is the key word…ourselves. We need to stop messing w/ the natural processes that evolution has put into place. If a cow was suppossed to have the bacteria that a kangaroo has then it probably would. Instead if this idea the one that would be best would be to stop putting antibiotics in the cow (and other animals) feed. Just read the side-effects from your antibiotics…upset stomach is the most common. They kill off the natural fauna in our digestive tracts and have caused some people to get food intolerences after they take them. Once again if we would just focus on what we are doing wrong and not try to change nature to suit us this planet would be better off…and so would we!

  • Amos

    It’s a good point you make, Jennifer. There are a million different steps we could take to decrease our ecological footprint and protect the Earth. But seeing as there isn’t the political will (yet!) to make many of these things happen, we’re often faced with the questions of whether we should take invervention A to alleviate intervention B.

    This story does seem a little freaky, I agree—seems like it could easily cause health problems for the cow—but I would at least be curious to see some data if they study this.

  • Dylan

    I wonder how many more cows are in the world because of our meat consumption, rather than if they lived only in the wild. Probably a good amount.
    I think I can see how we screwed this one up…

  • Mike

    Wouldn’t a simpler solution would be to stop eating beef and start munching on Skippy?

  • Jennifer

    I know we need to do something, but history has shown so many times that bringing in a foreign animal (or plant) to rid ourselves of some indigenous animal (or plant) causes unforeseen problems that can be more devastating than the initial problem. (Look into the plant and animal life of Hawaii for example) This is one of the things I am trying to remind us of and then we have the idea we need to stop…which is our grandiose delusion that we are gods of this planet. Animals deserve to live a life without scientific bombardment when it does not better their life (like fixing a broken leg for example)…and truly we don’t know what it might do. What if it wipes out the cows? Then where would we be? I do believe that we are omnivores and evolution designed us this way, but the havoc we cause before we kill an animal to eat it is UN-natural…this is one thing we need to change.
    I just hope that someday mankind could learn to be a part of nature again instead of always trying to seperate ourselves. I do have hope and I do believe science and self-responsibility are keys. If both are equaled with compassion for the Earth and ALL living things.

  • Dan Banks

    The real problem is that there are too damn many people. The best solution is to quit having so many babies. It’s time for folks to develop some personal responsibility and stop being so egotistical in thinking that their genes should be used to populate the world.

  • Anonymous User

    I agree ceasing to have babies would be a good plan. If you have any ideas to discourage human reproduction, let me know. Starvation, pollution and lack of drinkable water and diminished quality of life don’t seem to be stopping us as a species, so I don’t know what would. presumably, you’re a person, so you’re part of the problem too, just as much as the ninth baby born to a starving Sri Lankan woman.

  • Jennifer

    We do have too many people and getting to a zero population growth does not mean no one else would be born, but it does mean being responsible about the amount of births. And while I agree w/ the beginning of ‘too right’s comment’ the end has lost a little common sense. You can’t blame a person for being born…they had no say in this, now all that person can do is whatever they can to make a positive impact on the world and for the Sri Lankan woman…the 9 children knowingly brought into a starving situation is the problem.

  • Pingback: Reality Check: Climate Change | Reality Base | Discover Magazine()

  • Ian

    Jennifer, practically everything humans do is unnatural. We fly, we use electricity, we use plastic, we build, we go into outerspace, we write, we use medicine, practically everything is unnatural. The thing is, most of what humans do is actually very good. You just hear more about the bad stuff. Sure, introducing a new bacteria into a cow might have negative side effects, but thats why you do tests first. Should the Wright brothers not have invented the first air plane since some day they might be used to destroy the world trade center? The idea that we have to keep in mind here is to be careful, but not fearful. Progress only comes if you are brave enough to change. Backwards change that many seem to promote by claiming they want to go and let nature take care of things is not a great idea either. It is nature and not man who have caused the worst extinctions on this and any other planet and it is ONLY man and not nature who can prevent future ones.

    As far as population growth goes, the best thing we can do to stop population growth is to rebuke religious teachings that teach that birth control is a sin, and by eliminating poverty. These are the leading causes of population growth everywhere in the world. All the industrial first world nations have a steady birth rate like the US (Its population continues to grow but via immigration not birth rates) or they have declining populations as much of Europe does. The third method is China’s effective but ugly enforcement of 1 child laws.

  • Susan Lee

    What Ian says about population growth makes sense: educate people that birth control is not a sin and eliminate poverty. But the amount of greenhouse gas emissions is linked to consumpton, not simply the number of people. Greenhouse gas emissions is determined by both the number of people (more in developing countries and growing rapidly) and per capita emissions (much greater in the US and industrialized nations). An additional baby by a Sri Lankan woman contributes far less to global warming than a baby born in the US. High consumpton is the problem. Having a second baby the US causes greater harm to the environment than having multiple babies in Sri Lanka.

  • hollyann

    i think everyone just needs to calm down! its an on going problem and there is no way we can take back what has ocurred in the past. STFU!


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.

See More

Collapse bottom bar