Date: Mar 01, 2019 Author: Rachel Knight Source: (
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What started as a six-week-long research project intended to keep a doctoral student at Texas A&M University busy has turned into the development of a patent-pending cattle probiotic. After six years of research, Dr. Elizabeth Latham, chief science officer and co-founder of Bezoar Laboratories, and the Bezoar Laboratories team are closer than ever to making their dream of lowering methane emissions and providing benefits to consumers, animals, and the environment a reality.
Latham's invention of the cattle probiotic Paenibacillus fortis benefits cattle by preventing nitrate poisoning, benefits the environment by reducing methane emissions by 50 percent, and saves producers money through increased feed efficiency.
Paenibacillus fortis, the official name of Latham's probiotic, is awaiting federal approval, which could take one to seven years. Once Bezoar has federal approval and a contract with a manufacturer, the powder will be easy for both large and small producers to use. The probiotic is a shelf-stable feed additive in powder form that is mixed into cattle feed, water, or mineral mixes, according to Latham.
The feed additive is actually a microorganism naturally found in cows' stomachs. For cattle, eating the additive is the equivalent of humans eating yogurt, Latham explains. Cows are ruminant animals, meaning they have multiple chambers in their stomach. One of the chambers is called a rumen. The rumen is essentially a fermentation chamber where microorganisms break down fibrous foods.
"[Cows] eat the grass, and then the microbes eat the grass, and then [the cows] eat the microbes," Latham says. "It's kind of an amazing system, because it is on land that we wouldn't normally be able to produce calories on because it is un-arable."
According to Dr. Luis Tedeschi, a professor in ruminal nutrition at Texas A&M, ruminant animals and the microorganisms that live in their rumens have a symbiotic relationship, because each does something that benefits the other.
"The microorganism is very good for the ruminant, because it digests the fiber that the mammalian animal cannot," Tedeschi shares. "We cannot digest fiber, but bacteria can. In doing so, they end up producing hydrogen. ... That hydrogen is toxic to the bacteria, so they have to get rid of that hydrogen. One way to get rid of it and make it inert to them is to associate that hydrogen to a carbon. They associate that hydrogen to carbon so they have CH4, which is methane."
The ruminant then belches and farts out the methane created by the microbes, thus releasing methane into the atmosphere. While methane is not good for the environment, the loss of carbon from the cow's digestive system represents potential calories and therefore energy loss in the cow, according to Tedeschi.
As Latham points out, carbon is the building block for carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Belching methane not only has a negative impact on the environment, but also is a waste of energy the cow could use to make milk, muscle, work, and other animal products.
The microorganism in Latham's feed additive is one of thousands naturally found in the rumen ecosystem. Some are predators while others are prey. By out-competing methane-producing microbes in the rumen, the microorganism in Latham's probiotic allows cattle to keep the nutritional and growth potential of the carbon while reducing methane emissions.
Tedeschi says agriculture is responsible for about 8 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, while the energy industry is responsible for 84 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Cattle are only responsible for about 5 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.; however, according to Latham, if 30 percent of producers in America used her probiotic, it would be the equivalent of taking all the cars in Texas off the roads in terms of greenhouse gas reduction.
Latham says she hopes her research and invention will provide hope for those who fear the environmental impact of ruminant animal production in agriculture. "There are businesses and scientists like me and other people all around the country that are looking for technologies that will seriously mitigate the negative effects of climate change or prevent it from happening." she shares. "You can keep eating steak; you can keep eating ice cream if we keep introducing technologies like this."