While many cleantech startups are working on making cleaner burning fuels for our cars, a biotech firm Down Under is engineering cleaner digesting grasses for our cows. Gramina, a joint venture between Australian Molecular Plant Breeding and Kiwi PGG Wrightson Genomics, is genetically engineering pasture grass to be more digestible so that cows grazing on it burp up less methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. (Hat tip Science Daily)
Cows produce methane as the microbes in their gut break down the cellulose of the grasses they eat. Just as lignin and cellulose are difficult for ethanol producers to breakdown, so too is it in the cow’s stomach. And actually researchers at Energy Biosciences Institute are looking to cow stomaches as a model for how to process plants into fuel.
Gramina is working on making grasses that maintain their structural integrity but have less lignin. The firm’s researchers hope that suppressing the expression of the enzyme ‘O-methyl transferase’ in the grass will make it easier to breakdown — and therefore produce less methane during digestion.
The joint venture won a Aus $1.8 million grant (or about $1.7 million USD) from Australia New Zealand Biotechnology Partnership Fund for their research in April. Gramina is also working on making grasses that grow better in warmer climes, in the expectation that climate change will be changing the temperature of grazing lands.