- Animal health biotech company BiomEdit has received a $4.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
- The two will develop microbiome-based solutions that reduce methane emissions for beef and dairy cattle and enhance feed efficiency.
- The project will focus on smallholders and pastoralists in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia with the goal of also improving these groups’ livelihoods.
- Indiana-based BiomEdit was launched in 2022 by Ginkgo Bioworks and Elanco.
Application for livestock systems large and small
The new partnership between BiomEdit and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will chiefly address the methane problem while aiming to preserve and improve smallholder livelihoods.
“One of the features of the Gates Foundation support is to target and generate application of our technology in the small-scale producer and pastoral community settings that are found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia,” BiomEdit CEO Aaron Schacht tells AgFunderNews.
Ruminants are responsible for about 30% of global methane emissions, with cattle accounting for the majority (77%) of those emissions. Methane has a shorter lifespan than carbon dioxide but traps 84 times more heat than CO2 over the first two decades after it is released into the air.
But ruminants are also critical to livelihoods around the world, with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) noting that “out of 729 million poor people living in rural and marginal areas, about 430 million are estimated to be poor livestock farmers who predominantly rear ruminant animals.”
While smallholders and pastoralists will be the focus of this partnership, Schacht says “the approach we are taking should have application in both large livestock production systems and small-scale production scenarios.”
How it works
Enteric methane (cow burps) is a byproduct of cows’ natural digestive process. Microbes that decompose in cows’ digestive tracts produce energy for animals, some of which gets lost as methane emissions through the enteric fermentation process.
Schacht says BiomEdit’s solutions will target the rumen microbiome, the microorganisms that live in a cow’s digestive tract and are critical to the digestion process.
“By targeting specific microorganisms responsible for methane emissions, the solutions will be able to reduce them,” he notes. “The spare energy that would normally go towards creating methane emissions will be redirected towards feed efficiency.”
Feed efficiency measures how well an animal converts what they are fed into the protein they produce (e.g., meat, milk, etc.).
While BiomEdit has yet to name any specific products, the company says administration pathways could take the form of feed additives, feed supplements, veterinary biologics, or pharmaceuticals.
Making ‘a meaningful impact’ on climate change
Schacht notes that making a meaningful impact on climate change requires “a simultaneous benefit” of reducing methane emissions in cattle while redirecting that energy.
“If a product were introduced that only reduces methane emission — as opposed to something that simultaneously reduces methane while increasing feed efficiency — then the livestock producer must pay for the methane emission reduction, which reduces the economic benefit,” he says.
The farmer is also taking a risk that lower methane emissions can actually be monetized to cover the cost of the product implemented to reduce emissions, he adds.
“If however, you provide a product that simultaneously reduces methane emissions and increases feed efficiency, then the livestock producer directly realizes the benefits and gains further potential value if the methane emission reduction can be monetized as an inset or an offset.”
A ‘multi-pronged’ approach to methane
The Gates Foundation partnership is the latest in a series of high-profile partners BiomEdit has secured since it launched in 2022.
Most recently, BiomEdit launched a partnership with livestock carbon marketplace Athian to develop sustainability protocols for for capturing emissions and claiming carbon credits for livestock production.
BiomEdit also has a partnership with Nutreco developing novel feed additives developed through microbiome technology.
Multiple other companies are making efforts to reduce methane through new technologies and processes.
“Other reduction strategies utilize chemicals (synthetic or naturally delivered, as in the case of red seaweed) to inhibit final steps in the methanogenesis pathway, notes Schacht.
“BiomEdit is targeting biological solutions that target reshaping of the rumen microbiome to be a low methane-producing system, as well as engineering microorganisms that express biomolecules that inhibit methanogens.”
“We believe the best solutions will require this multi-pronged approach, and that by introducing a biological solution we avoid challenges like residues or environmental accumulation.”