Cows grazing on "super grass" may produce up to 20 per cent more milk

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Sydney, March 1 (ANI): Reports indicate that Australian cientists are planning to launch a genetically-engineered super-grass" by 2013, claiming that cows grazing on it will produce up to 20 per cent more milk.

The GE ryegrass, being developed in Australia for New Zealand seed company PGG Wrightson, has potential to make a huge difference to agriculture, Glenn Tong, the chief executive of Australia's Molecular Plant Breeding Cooperative Research Centre (MPBCRC), told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Existing dairy farming pasture-grasses are mainly perennial ryegrass and tall fescue, but the perennial ryegrass grows best in temperate areas that are becoming warmer with climate change.

According to Tong, the technology works to increase the carbohydrates or energy molecules in the grass, and the fodder will also be more digestible than existing ryegrass; so the sheep and cows can access those energy molecules more easily.

The scientists at Gramina - the joint biotech venture by New Zealand rural services group PGG Wrightson Genomics and the MPBCRC - are also developing a grass that will not only reduce the amount of methane cows burp up when chewing the cud, but also grow in warmer climates.

This means that farmers may be able to maintain dairy herds' productivity and profitability in the face of a global warming, while reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

Methane makes up 14.3 per cent of humanity's contribution to global warming and nearly half of New Zealand's output overall.

Ruminant livestock such as cattle and sheep produce methane generated by the micro-organisms in their gut that help them break down cellulose in grass.

Gramina has been using "sense suppression" technology to prevent the expression of an enzyme - making the grass more easily digested.

Wrightson has previously predicted global markets will be ready for milk and meat grown on genetically engineered pastures by the time it releases its GE ryegrass, even though some consumers may object to dairy products and meat reared on GE pastures.

Importantly, the grasses would not be transgenic - containing genetic codes from other species - but would have some of their existing genes either switched off, or boosted in terms of roteins they produced. (ANI)

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