Enteric methane is a leading cause of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions, produced by the digestive system of ruminants—namely cattle—are difficult to mitigate long-term. The Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) at UC Berkeley, in collaboration with UC Davis, is developing an innovative process that alters the microbiome of cattle rumen to reduce methane emissions, an intervention that can reduce emissions over the animal’s lifespan. Through a partnership with the Global Methane Hub, IGI is leveraging its resources to accelerate complementary research globally through the Enteric Fermentation R+D Accelerator, a new philanthropic initiative launched through AIM for Climate.
Ahead of COP26, the United States and United Arab Emirates launched the Agricultural Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C) with the goal of driving accelerated action in agricultural research and development to advance climate adaptation and mitigation. Since its launch, AIM4C has grown into a coalition of more than 50 governments and over 500 organizational partners who have collectively leveraged $13 billion in funds ahead of COP28 to advance AIM4C’s vision of accelerating research into climate-smart action.
A hallmark of this initiative is the AIM4C Innovation Sprints: focused, expedited projects with the goal of driving breakthroughs in agricultural science, financing, and research for the improvement of the world’s agri-food systems.
One such project is a partnership between the University of California’s Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) and the Global Methane Hub’s Enteric Methane R+D Accelerator. Based out of University of California, Berkeley, with IGI investigators at UC Davis, the IGI leverages world class research talent in genomics and sustainable agriculture to discover and develop innovative approaches to reduce global methane emissions. IGI’s project “Engineering the Microbiome with CRISPR to Improve our Climate and Health” deploys genome editing-based strategies on the microbiome in cow rumen to lower methane emissions. The project was recently awarded $70M through the TED Audacious Project, an initiative that encourages the world’s greatest changemakers to solve global problems innovatively.
IGI’s project focuses on a key component of ruminant methane: the microbiome. Many climate problems directly result from the collective behavior of microbiomes. Human-driven changes to and creation of new environmental microbiomes (e.g., livestock production and agriculture) represent a significant source of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, like methane from livestock animals and farmed soils. These microbiomes account for more than half of global methane, a GHG that has contributed to 30% of global temperature rise since the industrial revolution. Microbiomes in the digestive tracts of animals and in diverse ecosystems (e.g., wetlands, landfills, and waste lagoons) drive the majority of these emissions; livestock alone account for nearly 15% of all human-driven global GHG emissions. The EPA estimates that by 2030, we will not be able to mitigate 91% of the non-CO2 emissions from agriculture, even with full implementation of available technology.
By combining two cutting edge technologies, CRISPR genome editing and genome-resolved metagenomics – the approach needed to edit the genomes of whole communities of bacteria – the IGI team endeavors to create a first-in-class precision microbiome editing platform that will enable safe and scaled manipulation of agricultural microbiomes to reduce or even eliminate methane emissions over a cow’s entire lifetime. Methane emissions from cattle come from their unique digestive system and the bacteria in their rumen that help break down grasses and other feed. One of the only established ways to minimize methane emissions is by adding seaweed-derived additives to the cattle’s feed. These additives provide immediate, but temporary, reductions in methane emissions from cattle. The IGI team’s aim to transform the microbiome of the bacteria in the rumen, however, should provide a methane mitigation intervention that lasts the cow’s lifetime.
Critical to that impact is IGI’s partnership with the Global Methane Hub’s R+D accelerator. The Global Methane Hub is a global philanthropic organization working to find solutions to global methane emissions, including those from agriculture and cattle. The Hub recently launched a $200 million Enteric Fermentation R+D accelerator through AIM for Climate, $35 million of which is funding from the IGI’s Audacious Project, providing a unique financial leveraging mechanism to advance IGI’s research and complimentary research worldwide. This partnership presents a model that other researchers pursuing breakthrough climate adaptation and mitigation research through agriculture can look to for inspiration, both within and beyond the context of AIM for Climate.