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Research to breed more climate-friendly cattle selected for PLOS Genetics Research Prize

Winning study identified microbial biomarkers to breed cattle with lower greenhouse gas emissions

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Research to Breed More Climate-Friendly Cattle Selected for PLOS Genetics Research Prize

image: Animal genetics control the composition of the microbial community and thus methane emissions to a substantial extent with equal ranking of sire progeny groups within diet. view more 

Credit: SRUC, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, with additions by Rainer Roehe and colleagues.

A study that identified a genetic link between host animals, the microbial community in their digestive tract, and the methane that they produce, has won the PLOS Genetics Research Prize for 2017. The winning research, a collaboration between Scotland's Rural College, The University of Edinburgh and The University of Aberdeen, UK was reported last year in PLOS Genetics.

The prize is now in its third year and comes with a $5,000 award to the authors. The public nominates worthy papers from the previous year and the PLOS Genetics Editors-in-Chief and Senior Editors make their final selection based on the scientific merit and community impact of the research.

Rainer Roehe and colleague's paper were selected in part, for its potential to reduce methane released from cattle and other livestock, which represents a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers have discussed the possibility of breeding cattle that generate less methane, but it was unknown to what extent a cattle's genome would influence the makeup of its 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 profiles that can be used to recognize cattle that use their feed more efficiently while also emitting less methane. The study represents the first step toward breeding low-emission cattle, which will become increasingly important in the face of growing global demand for meat.

The findings also support the idea that a host animal's genetics control the composition of its microbial community to a large extent. The work gives proof of principle that by determining the community or gene abundances of microbes in the gut, scientists can also gain information about certain traits relating to metabolism, health and behavior.

Corresponding author, Rainer Roehe says: "We are honored to receive this award from the high impact journal PLOS Genetics. In our research, we were impressed to find that the host genetics shapes its own microbiome to that extent and that microbial gene abundances are so highly informative to predict 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, personalized medicine, nutritional recommendations, etc. in many different species."


PLOS Genetics Research Prize 2017 Announcement:

In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS Genetics:

Citation: Roehe R, Dewhurst RJ, Duthie C-A, Rooke JA, McKain N, Ross DW, et al. (2016) 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 Genet 12(2): e1005846.

Funding: The project was supported by grants from the Scottish Government as part of the 2011-2016 commission, Programme 2, Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the devolved administrations through the UK Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Inventory Research Platform and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC; BB/J004243/1, BB/J004235/1) UK. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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