A team of Australian scientists lead by Rocky De Nys (James Cook University) discovered that a certain type of red seaweed, called Asparagopsis taxiformis, can decrease the amount of methane produced by the bacteria found in a cow’s stomach.
Lauren Kuntz explains that methane is a very potent but short-lived greenhouse gas. Limiting methane produced by livestock, a major source of the gas, could help abrogate short-term dramatic global warming (on the scale of a few decades). It would not, however, eliminate the need to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide contributes to the global warming via the greenhouse effect and remains in the atmosphere for a much longer time than methane.
De Nys’s research is still a ways off from being usable in commercial agriculture. To date, the seaweed has been tested in cow’s stomach fluid and in live sheep, but still needs to be tested in live cows. The seaweed is also only available naturally in small amounts. An environmentally sustainable way to grow and distribute the seaweed would be necessary for large scale use. Finally, the availability of future funding will determine the speed of continued research.
Acknowledgments Many thanks to Lauren Kuntz, a PhD student in the Earth and Planetary Science department, for her input on this research.
Managing Correspondent: Emily Kerr