Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.


Scientists Build Fake Burping Cows to Study Methane Emissions

DiscoblogBy Nina BaiJanuary 21, 2009 11:55 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

As we've mentioned before, about 18 percent of methane from human activities is generated in the guts of livestock. As such, cow belching, which is how much of this potent greenhouse gas sees the light of day, has become an important environmental concern. In an effort to make cows less gassy, scientists have tried everything from transferring special methane-reducing bacteria from kangaroo guts into cow guts, to garlic supplements, to promoting a switch to kangaroo-burgers. But no one wants to be in the field measuring cow burps. Now a team of scientists from New Zealand have a designed a model cow to study the issue in the lab. In fact, they've built a whole herd of virtual cows, named Myrtle, Buttercup, Jesse, Ethel, Daisy and Boris. Each consists of a system of tubes, pumps, jars, monitors, and blinking lights which simulate the entire bovine digestive system. As News 3 reports:

Food and saliva are added to the cow’s “stomachs” and the end result is perhaps inevitable. “As the materials ferment you end up with what we call the poo jars. That is as technical as an engineer would want to get,” says [researcher Robert] Wood. Methane gas emissions are monitored. “Every time the little unit here flicks, we count the flicks for the amount of gas produced,” says Wood.

The scientists hope to use their virtual herd to model different feeding strategies, which can then be applied to real cows. Related Content: Discoblog: Kangaroo-ifying Cows to Fight Global Warming Discoblog: Kangaroo: It's What's For Dinner in Australia DISCOVER: All Aboard the Cow Train DISCOVER: 10 Ways Methane Could Brake Global Warming—Or Break the Planet

Image: flickr / JelleS

3 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In