Review: Diving into the cow hologenome to reduce methane emissions and increase sustainability

Animal. 2023 Mar 17;100780. doi: 10.1016/j.animal.2023.100780. Online ahead of print.


Interest on methane emissions from livestock has increased in later years as it is an anthropogenic greenhouse gas with an important warming potential. The rumen microbiota has a large influence on the production of enteric methane. Animals harbour a second genome consisting of microbes, collectively referred to as the "microbiome". The rumen microbial community plays an important role in feed digestion, feed efficiency, methane emission and health status. This review recaps the current knowledge on the genetic control that the cow exerts on the rumen microbiota composition. Heritability estimates for the rumen microbiota composition range between 0.05 and 0.40 in the literature, depending on the taxonomical group or microbial gene function. Variables depicting microbial diversity or aggregating microbial information are also heritable within the same range. This study includes a genome-wide association analysis on the microbiota composition, considering the relative abundance of some microbial taxa previously associated to enteric methane in dairy cattle (Archaea, Dialister, Entodinium, Eukaryota, Lentisphaerae, Methanobrevibacter, Neocallimastix, Prevotella and Stentor). Host genomic regions associated with the relative abundance of these microbial taxa were identified after Benjamini-Hoschberg correction (Padj < 0.05). An in-silico functional analysis using FUMA and DAVID online tools revealed that these gene sets were enriched in tissues like brain cortex, brain amigdala, pituitary, salivary glands and other parts of the digestive system, and are related to appetite, satiety and digestion. These results allow us to have greater knowledge about the composition and function of the rumen microbiome in cattle. The state-of-the art strategies to include methane traits in the selection indices in dairy cattle populations is reviewed. Several strategies to include methane traits in the selection indices have been studied worldwide, using bioeconomical models or economic functions under theoretical frameworks. However, their incorporation in the breeding programmes is still scarce. Some potential strategies to include methane traits in the selection indices of dairy cattle population are presented. Future selection indices will need to increase the weight of traits related to methane emissions and sustainability. This review will serve as a compendium of the current state of the art in genetic strategies to reduce methane emissions in dairy cattle.

Keywords: Feed efficiency; Genetics; Genome-Wide Association Study; Holobiont; Microbiome.

Publication types

  • Review