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Can we breed the burps out of cows?

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Cows, goats, deer, and sheep naturally produce an abundance of methane — one of the more powerful greenhouse gases — but researchers are hoping that they can all but bring an end to that with selective breeding. Preliminary findings suggest it can be done, according to a team of researchers from over a half-dozen countries. The team found that methane production, which primarily occurs through belching, was consistent in each animal. This finding should allow the team to breed animals that release methane at continually lower levels. If they can make it happen, the environment may very well benefit by curbing a major producer of greenhouse gases.

However, the team's intention isn't strictly environmental: the real hope is to increase the efficiency of cows and other ruminant, methane-producing animals. The team says that between 2 and 10% of such animals' energy is used to produce methane. Minimizing this wouldn't just help the environment, it would lower feed costs. The team is part of a $10 million project broadly focused on making these animals more efficient. Its next step is to work with a larger sample of animals — about 1,400 — and determine in exactly what ways genetics play a role in methane production.