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GM and gene-edited grass research program expanded

Researchers from the University of Adelaide have identified genes in barley that could lead to higher-yielding crops.
Photo: GRDC

AgResearch, one of seven Crown Research Institutes in New Zealand, has announced it is expanding its genetically modified and gene-edited grasses research and development program.

To date, AgResearch has focused on high metabolisable energy (HME) ryegrass for pasture, a genetically modified (GM) grass that has been modified to have higher levels of lipids in its leaves by increasing the expression of two genes involved in lipid production and photosynthesis. Scientists hope that the HME ryegrass will deliver nutritional benefits for cattle while also reducing methane emissions and nitrogen excretion too.

Field trials of the GM ryegrass have been undertaken in the United States, due to the ban on GM crop commercialisation in New Zealand. Following five years of field trials in the US, an application for field trials was recently lodged with Australia’s Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR). However, the application has now been withdrawn until additional information can be provided regarding the potential allergenicity of the grass’s pollen.

Research is continuing in New Zealand to progress the development of HME ryegrass, including growing and animal feeding trials and plant breeding by the project’s commercial partners, Grasslanz Technology, PGG Wrightson Seeds and DairyNZ.

The research program is showing promising results, including reduced methane emissions by up to 15 per cent.

Drought-tolerant GM wheat approved in Paraguay

Paraguay is the latest country to approve HB4® wheat, according to the Instituto de Biotecnologia Agricola. The variety has been approved for food, feed and cultivation in Argentina and Brazil, and for food and feed use in Australia, Colombia, New Zealand, Nigeria and the US.

The approval in Paraguay allows the introduction of the HB4® trait to wheat improvement programs so that future wheat varieties can be produced and their seeds potentially ready for commercialisation.

Bumper barley crop gene discovery

Researchers from the University of Adelaide have identified genes in barley that could lead to higher-yielding crops.

Using genetic techniques to determine which genes boost fertility and make the plants more receptive to cross-pollination, a number of multi-ovary barley mutants were grown in glasshouses. One type was more fertile than the others and capable of producing up to three times the number of seeds of the other plants.

Compared to typical barley varieties, the multi-ovary barley mutants produce extra female reproductive organs in each flower.

“The genes in that mutant variety of barley could hold the key to increasing the yield of cereal crops,” lead researcher Dr Caterina Selva says.

“By mixing the mutant with other varieties of barley, we can create stronger, more-resilient crops that produce higher yields in even the most challenging of environments,” Dr Selva says.

Senior author, Associate Professor Matthew Tucker says the research is an example of how changing one gene can have a positive effect on grain yields.

“We can overcome barriers to cross-pollination by using the more-fertile, mutated plants to produce stronger barley and more of it,” Associate Professor Tucker says.

Australia produces just over nine million tonnes of barley each year, the majority of which is exported to Asia. It is one of the nation’s most widely grown crops and covers about four million hectares of land from southern Queensland through to Western Australia.

The research was published in the Journal of Experimental Botany.

Protein discovery for drought-resistant crops

A protein called AtMC3 which looks to enhance the drought tolerance of plants is in the spotlight of an international team of researchers.

By genetically modifying plants to have different levels of the protein, the scientists found that plants with less AtMC3 were less sensitive to a stress hormone that triggers protections in a plant when there is less water around.

They also found that increasing the levels of AtMC3 increased plants’ survival rates and their ability to photosynthesis when water was scarce.


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