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Cows' stomachs could hold key to green fuels

Scottish scientists are investigating how tiny organisms found in the stomachs of cows could be used to create valuable industrial products including biofuels and pharmaceutical building blocks from waste plant materials.

Scottish scientists are investigating how tiny organisms found in the stomachs of cows could be used to create valuable industrial products including biofuels and pharmaceutical building blocks from waste plant materials.

A three-way collaboration between life sciences company Ingenza, leading researcher Professor John Wallace, of the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, and the ARK-Genomics facility in Edinburgh's world-famous Roslin Institute, is examining how enzymes from the microbes that live in the stomachs of cattle and other ruminants - animals which chew the cud - could be used industrially to break down the tough internal structures of plant and tree matter.

The resulting chemical reactions could be used to create sustainable alternatives to petrochemical-derived products such as fuel, commodity chemicals and fine chemicals.

Humans are unable to digest this tough and complex plant material, which could only provide roughage in the diet. However, Ingenza and Prof Wallace expect to identify enzymes found in ruminants which allow them to digest these complex structures.

The discovery and application of these enzymes could help scientists to release untapped energy in waste plant and tree products and use it to manufacture renewable alternatives to products such as petrol and diesel fuels.

Prof Wallace will make a presentation on the subject at a technology showcase being held in Edinburgh next month by Scottish Agricultural College (SAC), which will bring together the best of Scottish research and technology and leading-edge collaboration projects.

If the project is successful, Ingenza would use its own production systems, such as yeast, to mass produce the enzymes for industrial use.

People have been trying to unlock the energy in plant and tree matter for years, but our approach recognises how nature has already successfully done it.

If we can identify novel enzymes that allow ruminants to break down these tough structures, and then replicate them on a large scale, the possibilities for more sustainable and renewable industrial practices are enormous.

Society is starting to look towards how greener practices can contribute to economic growth and more sustainable living in a meaningful way - this project could be a real step towards that.

Dr Ian FotheringhamPresident of Ingenza

Other technology on display at the event includes the latest development in SAC's pioneering work to measure methane measurement in livestock, which is thought to represent much of the 12 per cent of Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions coming directly from agriculture. The new SAC 'GreenCow' facility and associated respirometer technology will also be on display at the show at SAC's research centre near Edinburgh on August 4. The facility, the largest of its kind in the UK, measures the methane emissions of individual housed cattle to enable researchers to find ways of making livestock systems and feeding more environmentally sustainable.

At the other end of the spectrum, a hand-held laser methane detection gun, which could be used on-farm by individual farmers, will also be on display.

The event is being jointly organised by SAC, and the Rumens and Ruminants Interest Group, part of the Scottish Government and Technology Strategy Board-funded Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), based at the Roslin Institute.

There's an enormous amount of outstanding research and technology coming out of Scotland at the moment, and events like this are absolutely crucial in making sure people know what's being done and are able to benefit from it.

The sharing of ideas and new discoveries across research facilities and commercial organisations is providing an additional boost to innovation in Scotland. Agriculture is an important part of the Scottish economy, and the knock-on effects of what is being done here will have positive benefits for other industry sectors too.

Dr David TelfordKnowledge transfer manager at the Biosciences KTN

The SAC Technology Showcase is on August 4 at the SAC Beef Research Centre, Edinburgh. Attendance is free of charge - to register email

For more details about the event and the Rumens and Ruminants Interest Group, see the Biosciences KTN website:

Issued by The BIG Partnership on behalf of the Rumens and Ruminants Interest Group of the Biosciences KTN. For more information contact Bryan Garvie on 0141 333 9585 / 07863 208045 / About the Rumens and Ruminants Interest Group:

The Rumens and Ruminants Interest Group aims to bring together organisations interested in harnessing the substantial potential of the rumen ecosystem, and also those interested in new technology to benefit ruminant livestock production, to identify new collaboration and innovation opportunities. This interest group is being developed because new technology provides excellent innovation opportunities in these areas.

Dairy, beef and sheep production now has the opportunity to benefit from new technologies such as measurement and diagnostic tools, and genomics technologies, to benefit traits of economic importance (e.g. reproduction, feed efficiency, health etc). There are also many opportunities for these industries to help other sectors, such as plant and grassland breeding, or industrial bioscience. For more details, see:


About the Biosciences KTN

The Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) is funded by government to drive the conversion of the UK's bioscience knowledge into innovative agricultural, food and industrial bioscience products and processes. The Biosciences KTN is sponsored by the Technology Strategy Board, the Scottish Government, European Regional Developments Funds, Defra and the BBSRC. For more details, see:


About the Scottish Agricultural College

SAC (The Scottish Agricultural College) is an innovative, knowledge-based organisation, supporting the development of land-based industries and communities through specialist research and development resources; education and training provision; and expert advisory and consultancy services

The SAC's work is wide ranging but there is a particular emphasis on agriculture and related sciences, rural business development and management, food chain quality and safety, and rural resource and environmental management.

Through its associate company, SAC Commercial Ltd, the SAC can provide a wide range of services to individuals, small and medium size enterprises, corporate clients, local and regional authorities, and government agencies and departments.


About ARK Genomics

ARK-Genomics at The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh is a high-throughput technology laboratory focussed on  studies of genome structure and genetic variation, gene expression and  gene function.

The ARK Genomics team of experienced research scientists offer a  range of bespoke services using various technologies. They can work with  you to take your project from the initial stages of a grant application, experimental design and technology selection, performing  wet laboratory protocols, through to the final analysis of complex data.   ARK-Genomics resources are available for experimental use as part of a  collaborative project with ARK-Genomics or for use in your own  laboratory.

The ARK-Genomics laboratory has close links with commercial partners  and supports more than 1000 scientists from the UK and abroad, applying  the latest technologies and approaches to all species from microbes to  humans.

In addition to the services and resources provided by the laboratory,  ARK-Genomics provides training courses and holds networking events such  as our successful "Farm Animal Functional Genomics" conference series.

For more information please visit