BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: #cows

Saving our planet, one fart at a time

Cows are really cute. They just stand there in the grass, four-legged and everything, eating their grass, mooing, and just living life like cows should. They taste good, and they make milk, which means that we (humans, if you needed that clarification) love to farm them. As a result, there’s a LOT of them (more than 1.5 billion) all over the planet. Seems like a good thing right? I mean, how could too much of this be a bad thing?

Look at this cutie just chillin’. Photo by Daniel Schwen.

Unfortunately, cows have a dark side. Cattle are a type of animal called a ruminant, which have specialized stomach to digest plant material by storing it and fermenting it. Once fermented, the food, known as cud, must be chewed again before digestion is complete. In the cow’s stomach aiding it in this process are tiny microbes known as methanogens. These guys allow cows to digest things like cellulose (plant matter), but produce methane as a waste products. Cows then either burp or fart out this gas.

With all the cows on the planet, the methane being emitted has become a major problem. Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, meaning it warms the planet at a much higher rate. Livestock account for 14.5% of all anthropomorphic (human) greenhouse gas emissions, and cattle account for 65% of all livestock emissions. So obviously, cows’ farts and burps are a problem. So how can we fix it?

Our cute friends are a large part of this… Made by Al Rodger.

The three issues, according to microbiologist Lorenzo Morelli, are diet, genetics, and the microbiology of cows. Phil Garnsworthy of Ruminomics, an organization with a goal of reducing cows’ emissions, looks to selection to help lessen the problem. According to him, cattle vary by a factor of two to three on the amount of methane given off. By simply favoring and only breeding those cattle that only emit low amounts of methane, the problem can be immediately mitigated. Dairy Farmers have an extra incentive to reduce methane by breeding low methane cows separate from the environment, as well. The methane represents lost energy that could go into producing more milk, and so adding low-methane to a list of attractive cow characteristics would not only help the environment, but also farmers’ wallets. But plain ol’ artificial selection isn’t the only option.

Changing cows’ diet may also help reduce the problem. Scientists at Aarhus University are looking into producing a genetically-engineered grass to give to cows. By changing and running tests on the DNA of the grass and eventually finding the optimal type, the scientists hope to make grass less stiff and easier to digest for the cows, which would not only decrease methane production due to less activity from the microbes, but also increase milk production.

Cows grazing. Photo by Scott Bauer.

There is an also an option of dealing directly with the microbes themselves and their methane release. For example, Researches at Penn State are studying the effects of  3-nitrooxypropanol (3NOP) on cows’ methane emissions. 3NOP, when put into cow feed, would in theory stop the microbes from producing methane when it binds to the cows’ digestive tracts. Cattle saw a 30% reduction of methane when fed 3NOP.

And finally, there is always the prospect of genetically modifying cows themselves to produce less methane. The tricky part about this is that it’s the microbes that actually produce the methane, not the cows. Morelli says, “We think that animal genetics may well influence their gut microbiology. However, this link has not been proved and we are still in the data collection phase.” Essentially, though we might be far from a GMO cow that produces less methane, it is not outside the realm of possibility. Even now, the Genome Canada project is looking into the genes responsible for lower methane emissions, with the hope of spreading the gene to other populations of cows.

Personally, I believe scientists should be doing whatever they can to reduce methane emissions. This is our planet, and we need to do everything we can to save it. This includes GMO research, which I realize makes some people uneasy, but in my opinion is a great, new way to help our planet and help ourselves. However, any solution that would hurt cows, reduce lifespan, or ruin milk or beef taste should only be used as a last resort. Even then, I would be hesitant to implement such changes. Essentially, what route is the most efficient and practical, and what are you willing to sacrifice? These are the two questions that must be answered in finding a way to reducing cows’ methane emissions.

All in all, it seems cows are on their way to being lesser burdens on our environment. And that’s a great thing, because then I would be able to appreciate their cuteness more without feeling a bit of guilt.

 

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/30884756422

If You Want the Bull, Take its Horns

Everyone loves milk. It’s the foundation of Ice Cream, it’s an essential component in any good bowl of cereal, it’s the foundational ingredient in the creamy center that unites the Oreo, and pro tip: you can put chocolate syrup in it (I thought of that; I call it “ChocoLeche” I think it could really catch on).

 

Before I continue, I’d like to take a moment of silence for those cursed by the demon known commonly as lactose intolerance. Your lives are a miserable nightmare that I don’t even want to think about. #findacure .

 

Like I said everyone loves milk, and everyone knows it comes from cows. Few people however are aware of the fact that the cow that produces milk is different than the cow that produces the much beloved meat products such as steak and hamburgers. The Cows that are used for meat are of the Angus variety. The Cows for dairy products are Holstein Cows. One major difference that used to exist between the two is that Holstein, or dairy cows, had horns, unlike the meatier Angus cows which did not have horns. Thanks to Crispr-Cas9, scientists from UC Davis lead by Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam have rid Holstein cows of their horns, and in doing so have granted dairy cows everywhere with a higher quality of life.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/30884756422

Source

Photo by

U.S. Department of Agriculture

The first question that needs to be answered is why would this be important. Why does it matter that we got the horns off of Holsteins? It’s important first because these horns put cows at risk from each other. Cows with horns might advertently or inadvertently use them to injure themselves, other cows or their handlers. Many previously solved this problem by dehorning the cows, which involves burning the horns off and is extremely painful for the cows. Without horns to begin with no cows need to be dehorned and fewer cows are injured. As Dr. Jeff Burkhardt puts it “From the animal welfare perspective, Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam’s research is worthy of high praise: The prospect of reducing the pain associated with de-horning, which itself was introduced to eliminate risks of animals hurting themselves and others, is exactly the kind of thing that animal scientists should be doing” – Jeff Burkhardt. The Ethics of Gene editing in general is a complex and hotly debated issue right now due to the novelty of the CRISPR system, however, in this instance I feel as though the researchers are on very sound moral ground. They have made a change that safely and indisputably decreases the pain a dairy cow experiences. If you disagree I’d invite you to burn two holes in the side of your head, and reconsider whether you’re comfortable bestowing that treatment on another living creature.

The second question is how did they do this. The answer is deceptively simple. As I formerly noted, Angus cows do not possess horns. What they do possess is a gene that prevents the growth of a horn. The group of researchers at UC Davis first identified this gene and its cause. They then used CRISPR-Cas9 to cut it out of an Angus Cow’s DNA and inserted it into the DNA of a Holstein cow. The Angus cow gene prevents horn growth in Holstein cows, and the Holstein cows officially became a GMO, or genetically modified organism. A GMO that no longer has horns.

 

From Beef to Blood to Breast Cancer: Bovine Leukemia Virus

Scientists have studied Bovine Leukemia Virus, informally known as BLV for quite a while. Investigators have studied the cellular structure of the virus, the hypothetical vaccine and the correlation with cow’s milk. However, recently a study done by researchers at the University of California Berkeley concludes that there is a link between the infection (BLV) and human breast cancer.

In a study published in PLOS ONE,the investigators take note of all of the potential causes of breast cancer. They extrapolate that the key reasons behind breast cancer are age, reproductive history, hormones and genetics. The researchers additionally detected that the Bovine Leukemia Virus was in the breast epithelium of humans. The objective of this experiment was to determine whether the presence of BLV DNA in human mammary epithelium is associated with breast cancer.

The researchers conducted a case study in which archival formalin-fixed paraffin embedded breast tissue was injected in the control group (women without history of breast cancer) and the experimental group (women with a history of breast cancer.) The rate of occurrence of BLV DNA from women with breast cancer was 59%, while the rate in the control group was a diminutive 29%.

This experiment has helped researchers conclude that the presence of amplified BLV DNA is significantly correlated with female breast cancer. The findings in this experiment and ones similar to it assist in conceptualizing a potential primary and secondary breast cancer prevention tactic.

Humans get BLV from cows!

Humans get BLV from cows!

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar