Photo: Danish Agriculture & Food Council

Photo: Danish Agriculture & Food Council

New technology to reduce agricultural CO2

Does a blood sample from a pig or a piece of barley grass have the potential to reduce CO2 emissions?

Supported by government funding, this is what scientists from Denmark are currently investigating as they develop new technology that focuses on breeding and sustainability. 

A blood sample from a pig and a piece of barley grass can perhaps become the means by which livestock geneticists and plant breeders can identify pigs that utilise feed more efficiently and crops that deliver the highest yields.

With regard to pigs, improved efficiency will have a positive impact on CO2 emissions. Scientists are therefore working on developing a breeding method known as Metabolomic Selection, which will be developed over the next three years. This will result in the identification of pigs that utilise less feed for use in future pig production.

The scientists behind the development of the new breeding method believe that reduced feed consumption in Danish pigs could reduce emissions by 150,000 CO2 equivalents per year.

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"As this is fundamentally a new method, we have invented the name ourselves. Nobody has, as far as we know, used metabolomic data in breeding work in this way before,” says Tage Ostersen, Head of the Breeding & Genetics Department at SEGES (Danish Agriculture & Food Council) and Project Manager for Metabolomic Selection.

"We don’t know for sure whether what we’re doing will work, but if it does, it will potentially be as ground-breaking as when we started to use DNA testing in our breeding work,” he says.

Government funding
To develop the method, the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark has awarded the project DKK 8.5 million from the Green Development and Demonstration Programme. The funding will be used to develop the method so it can be used to select barley varieties and breeding pigs and eventually other livestock and crops.

“Danish agriculture has set an ambitious goal to be climate neutral by 2050. Achieving this target will require a great effort from many sides. We need to have many solutions in play and in this respect climate optimisation through livestock and plant breeding is an important component,” says SEGES’ Climate Manager Hans Roust Thysen.

Read: Climate vision for the Danish food industry 2020


Metabolomic selection is a method for utilising metabolomic data. This means that more knowledge about barley and pigs can be gained to improve livestock and plant breeding. This project will develop the method that is expected to result in more breeding progress for the characteristics that are difficult or expensive to measure on a large scale.

Metabolomic data is expected to be used to predict the ability of animals and crops to perform because the metabolome is one of the links in the chain between DNA and feed utilisation, yield and meat/malt quality in pigs and barley. In this way, the metabolome is a more precise indicator of how the breeding material is expressed.