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AgResearch considering bring GM trial to NZ

AgResearch considering bring GM trial to NZ

First published in Energy and Environment on July 18, 2019.

AgResearch says it is working on whether its genetically modified ryegrass could move to NZ based field and animal nutrition trials from 2021. This comes as the Government is advised again it should have another look at the laws around gene technologies by climate change advisors.

The genetically modified High Metabolisable Energy (HME) ryegrass has so far shown in testing to grow up to 50% faster than conventional ryegrass, to be able to store more energy for better animal growth, to be more resistant to drought, and to produce up to 23% less methane from livestock.

The Crown Research Institute says in its Statement of Corporate Intent it is continuing its field trials in the US in order to comply with NZ law. It currently has two parallel and closely interrelated programmes working HME forages.

“One, which is funded through MBIE’s Endeavour Fund with significant industry co-funding, will progress four lines of HME ryegrass to US-based field trials and animal nutrition trials. These trials will assist the industry to determine if NZ-based field and animal nutrition trials will occur from 2021 by building a data package of information to help define the value proposition for NZ. This SSIF supported programme will prepare commercial-ready HME forages for NZ-based field and animal nutrition trials scheduled for the spring of 2021.”

The work will also progress a second technology enabling the enhancement of plant root systems. This has been designed to be dovetailed with the HME

The work has funding of $1.9m in FY20.

The Interim Climate Change Committee’s advice on including agriculture in the Emissions Trading Scheme notes the work by AgResearch saying: “Initial modelling suggests that using this grass could reduce both methane and nitrous oxide emissions from grazing animals, but there are no results yet from actual farm trials to confirm its efficacy. Current laws relating to genetically modified organisms would prevent use of this in NZ.

“NZ’s rules on genetic modification could be a barrier to developing lower emissions technologies. One such example is a genetically modified ryegrass that has been developed by scientists at AgResearch but has had to go through field trials in the United States due to NZ’s rules on genetic modification. The science surrounding genetic modification has evolved. Other countries have changed their rules in recent years, and it is not uncommon for livestock overseas to eat genetically modified feeds.

“On the flip side, being free of genetic modification provides a unique characteristic that NZ products can trade on. As flagged by the Royal Society and others, it could be timely for NZers to have an open debate about the use of genetic modification in NZ.”

AgResearch is also using gene editing technology to improve pasture productivity and resilience by both reducing insect predation and improving plant access to water and nutrients through healthier root systems. This project has several focus areas including the discovery of new Epichloë endophytes.

“We will also develop a gene editing platform for Epichloë endophytes using CRISPR-Cas9 technology to ensure that mammalian-toxic compounds are eliminated and useful bioactives are present. We will continue our research to identify novel bioactive compounds that may be active against a broader range of insect pests and additionally confer improved drought resistance.”

First published in Energy and Environment on July 18, 2019.

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