iGEM MSP 2021
With droughts and storms being more frequent and intense, heat waves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and warming oceans, climate change is one of the most pressing issues we face in the 21st century. Climate change is caused by the greenhouse effect, where a specific group of gases trap the sun’s radiation and heat within our atmosphere. Although CO2 is the most recognized greenhouse gas, arguably it is not the biggest contributor to global warming. Methane has shown to be 25 times more potent at trapping the sun’s radiation compared to CO2. Livestock alone, mainly cattle, is responsible for a quarter of annual methane emissions. Since our planet’s future is dear to us, we chose to invest ourselves in finding an efficient way to reduce said emissions. Besides relieving pressure off our environment, reducing methane emissions can have another potential benefit. The production of methane within the cow’s rumen leads to a loss of feed energy for the animal. By inhibiting methanogenesis the cows utilize this energy instead, which will save the farmers costs on feed.
Where does the methane in cattle come from?
Cattle enzymatically decompose food sources such as grass and other plant proteins. During enteric fermentation within the rumen fatty acids along with hydrogen and CO2 are produced. While the fatty acids are used as a source of energy for the cow and its microbiome, the CO2 and hydrogen are used as substrates for the methanogenesis. The conversion of the two gasses into methane is done by Archaea and finally released into the air by the cow belching.
We will use the powers of seaweed to curb methanogenesis
Studies have shown that cows, when fed with algae, had reduced methane outputs by up to 80%. The main compound responsible for this is bromoform. Wow, problem solved! Add algae to the cows feed and the problem is solved? Sadly, it is not that simple. To achieve such notable levels of methane reduction, large quantities of algae would be required. Implementing these large quantities of algae proves to be very challenging outside the lab for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, the seaweed within the cows feed has led to negative effects on the cow’s digestion. Secondly, scaling the production of algae for said amounts would be near impossible. Lastly, the bromoform produced by seaweed farms catalyzes the recombination of ozone leading to its depletion. Should we really try fixing an environmental issue by creating another?
MSP-Maastricht chose to say “moo” to methane by creating a microorganism that can produce bromoform for us. These microorganisms we design, will enable the addition of bromoform to the cow’s food on a worldwide scale. Thereby actively contributing to a greener world.