© Keith Weller/USDA
In recent years, Bill Gates has started dipping his toes into unusual pools of creativity.

The grand high emperor of Microsoft is already working on a sprawling, futuristic "smart city" to be built in the Arizona desert, but now he has a second project to devote his time to - he's going to engineer the perfect cow.

Bearing in mind his plan to build a desert city, this isn't a terrible idea - ideally, this genetically engineered bovine will be significantly more hardy than our current and inferior livestock, and will be able to produce milk at far higher temperatures.

Of course, Gates' plan isn't really aimed at creating cows to feed his technological utopia (although he probably won't mind if that's a nice side-effect). Instead, Gates is hoping that these cows will help his ongoing humanitarian work in arid parts of the world where famine and pestilence is still affecting the lives of millions.

The plan is to start by conducting genetic research into cows, designing ways to build cattle capable of surviving more challenging environments, and also producing milk on a far greater scale. Gates' scientists hope that they can manage to increase the milk yield of the average cow fourfold.

GALVmed (Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines), an institute that's based in Edinburgh, Scotland, has just received an impressive $40 million donation from Gates in order to fund their research. Speaking about his contributions, Gates explained how he hopes this will provide relief for those who live in poverty in famine-stricken parts of the world:

"Chickens in Africa typically lay a couple of eggs, but if you give them the right breeding stock you could get that up to 10 to 12. Likewise in milk, the difference is even greater. The kind of cash that a household can earn, the amount of extra protein to improve their diets - this is very important to poor families in Africa."

While nobody can doubt Gates' eagerness to help out in some of the blight-stricken parts of the world, there is a danger that his efforts might prove detrimental in the long run.

Many scientists have raised concerns about the greater carbon footprint that would be generated were cows to become more widespread. Even as things stand currently, the large numbers of livestock that exist to feed humanity are generating greenhouse gases at alarming rates.

While creating hardier cows may help to temporarily alleviate suffering in desert areas of the world, experts recommend that actually, research should be going into creating more sustainable, environmentally-friendly vegetarian crops that can provide the same food relief - something that Gates is also hoping to achieve with other scientific research that he is funding. Ultimately, meat may not prove to be a luxury that humanity can continue to justify.

This, of course, comes as little consolation to those millions of people around the world who currently don't have enough to eat or drink, and certainly those who need the support will welcome these advanced cows if and when they finally become available.

At least if a cow's milk yield can be quadrupled, we can reduce the collective carbon footprint of the world's livestock by cutting down on the number of bovines that are needed to produce all our ice cream, yoghurt, and cheese pizzas.