Could Kangaroo Farts Curb Global Warming?

Could kangaroo farts help us curb global warming? I’m Anna Rothschild, and this is Gross Science. So, in order to understand how kangaroo farts have anything to do with global warming, let’s first just back up and talk about what a greenhouse gas is. And I promise, this will take under 20 seconds. Greenhouse gases are gases in our atmosphere that trap heat. In moderation, they’re actually vital to life on Earth, since they keep our planet from being a cold, barren wasteland. But, when we pump the atmosphere full of them, they trap tons of heat and make the planet warmer. A greenhouse gas we talk a lot about is carbon dioxide, since that’s what comes out of cars and many factories. But another important one is methane, which comes from lots of places, include cows. Cow burps, along with their farts and manure, release a ton of methane.

In fact, livestock are one of the major producers of methane worldwide, and cows are the worst offenders. You might think that the cows produce so much methane because of what they eat. But interestingly, kangaroos, which have a very similar, plant-based diet, actually release way less methane. Scientists looked into why this was happening, and they discovered that both cows and kangaroos have microbes in their guts that aid in their digestion. But cows primarily use microbes that create methane as a by-product, while kangaroos use ones that produce something called acetate, which is not a greenhouse gas. So, to help curb global warming, researchers are hoping to make cow guts more like kangaroo guts. Recently, they found that both cows and kangaroos share one particular acetate-producing microbe. One day, perhaps they’ll be able to ramp up the activity of that microbe in cows, so cows will also produce more acetate than methane.

Now, just for a little reality check, how worried should we really be about burping and farting cows? Well, humans produce more greenhouse gases in total from things like industry and transportation. However, methane is excellent at trapping heat—it’s actually 21 times better at it than carbon dioxide—which means that cow gas is really nothing to laugh at. Ew..