The Van Trump Report

Startup “ArkeaBio” Wants to Combat Livestock Emissions with a Vaccine

Researchers have been trying to figure out how to reduce the amount of methane released by cows and other “ruminant” animals for decades. Strategies utilizing feed additives and tools such as cow masks have had mixed results, and also stand to add substantially to production costs. Boston-based startup “ArkeaBio” is taking a different approach by focusing on a vaccine that targets the methane source – microorganisms inside an animals digestive system.

ArkeaBio CEO Colin South says a methane vaccine for ruminant animals is internationally recognized as the ‘holy grail’ to deliver methane reduction at low cost and mass scale. South also notes that a vaccine approach has only become an economically viable option within the last ten years thanks to the declining costs of genetic sequencing and biotechnology.  

Methane (CH4) is one of the main greenhouse gases and its negative effect on global warming is 21 times greater than that of carbon dioxide (CO2). Ruminants produce considerable amounts of methane during their digestive process. This gas is formed in the ruminant forestomach (rumen) by microorganisms known as “methanogenic archaea” which help breakdown feed into useable nutrients. A byproduct of this process is methane. The CH4 produced is not used by the animal itself, but instead is expelled primarily during eructation, or belching, though a small amount exits from the hind end.

These methane-filled cow burps represent an energy loss which some research has suggested can result in lower milk and meat production. Percentages of gross energy intake lost through methane eructation have been estimated at 2-12%, with greater losses associated with forage-rich diets.  

South, who is originally from New Zealand, says a vaccine would be a particularly useful tool for our grass-fed or pasture-raised animals as vaccination is already commonly used to support animal health. Ideally, a vaccine would only require a limited number of injections, as opposed to feed additives that need to be supplied indefinitely. What’s more, feed additives aren’t an ideal solution for grazing operations as there is no way to guarantee delivery.

ArkeaBio recently completed a $26.5 million Series A funding round which will be put toward expanding the company’s research, development, and deployment of the vaccine, including large-scale field trials and engagement along the supply chain. South anticipates a vaccine could be ready for commercial deployment by 2026 or 2027. (Sources: Bloomberg, AgriZeroNZ, Fast Company, NCBI) 

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