World-first science GE discovery that could lead to more productive farms and reduced greenhouse gases

15 June 2010

AgResearch scientists and the team from subsidiary company, Grasslanz Technology Ltd, believe they can improve white clover (Trifolium repens) to give grazing animals a higher intake of protein, while at the same time reducing methane emissions. In addition, the genetic breakthrough could improve animal health and reduce nitrogen waste, all issues important for sustainable farming.

The key is to develop white clover that contains beneficial concentrations of ‘condensed tannins’ in their leaves. Condensed tannins are a complex group of chemical compounds that are able to bind to and protect protein from breakdown in the stomach of sheep, cattle and other ruminants. However, they exist only in trace amounts in forage plants such as white clover and are entirely absent in grasses. There are some naturally occurring forage legumes that contain significant levels of tannins, but they are not suitable for pasture as they are difficult to establish and manage and do not persist under grazing conditions.

There are over 250 different types of clover, but only two are known to accumulate high levels of condensed tannins in their leaves. By using genetic techniques as a research tool, AgResearch scientists have compared these two to white clover and uncovered a pivotal gene that increases levels of condensed tannins in white clover leaves. A related tannin gene was then located in white clover itself, although this native gene at present remains switched off. Understanding how the ‘switches’ work may result in clovers which have not been genetically modified but have a reactivated tannin gene. The technology has significant value for New Zealand but in the current regulatory environment some of the work will continue with partners offshore.

Dr Jimmy Suttie, AgResearch’s Science & Technology General Manager, Applied Biotechnologies Group says that, if realised, this huge breakthrough will benefit the environment, farmers and industry. “Currently white clover contains extremely low levels of tannins found only in the flowers, and if we can alter this to allow condensed tannins to accumulate to effective levels in leaves then we’ll have a major benefit.

“There is evidence that tannins can reduce methane emissions from ruminants, and this increases the importance of our work,” says Dr Suttie.

Another benefit may be reducing bloat in animals eating clover rich pastures. Bloat is caused by retention of gas in the stomach, which can lead to the death of the animal and is common particularly in spring when pasture growth is rapid.

The work on the genetics of tannin production in clovers has been taking place for a number of years but is now at a point where there is progress to report.


Solving the Mystery of the Maungie Mural

I've lived in this area for nearly 6 years and every few days I drive past the mural painted on the outside of the Maungaturoto Public Toilets. I used to wonder what it was all about with whales, sea creatures and birds painted across the concrete surface. I did ask around but no-one seemed to be able to tell me when it was done, why it was done or who the artist was.

I've been meaning to take photos of this mural for a while but just seemed to forget or when I did remember I didn't have the camera handy. This time I made certain I had the camera and I made a point at stopping to photograph all of it. Of course I got some strange looks from passers by. Why in heck would the editor of the local rag bother with that old thing?

My answer to that would be simple enough. Because it's a beautiful work of art and because time is taking its toll on the artwork which at anytime may be painted over by the District Council. We don't know. But already graffiti damage, leaks in the concrete surface of the building (aka a concrete watertank) have damaged the artwork and some of the images have been painted over.
You can see the damage caused by a leak in the concrete. The dolphin I think represents the rare Hector's Dolphin frolicking in the sea surrounded by other sea creatures.

Finally after having a nice long chat to our bus driver Len I found out the real story behind the mural's creation. It turns out it was done by then local artist Patricia Owens, who conceived the idea after the win of NZL 32 in the 1995 America's Cup. Above is the representation of the famous boat now installed at the National Maritime Museum in Auckland.

The mural represents not just the America's Cup win but also takes a journey down the length of New Zealand with various representations depicting scenes from Northland down to the South Island High Country. The creatures unique our coast, bush and sea are represented in small images each one recognisable for their uniqueness and rarity. More photos below....

It's sad to see the mural in such a poor condition. How long it will remain can't be predicted. So far it's withstood 15 years of weathering by the elements. I'd like to see it restored as reminder of an event that stopped our nation. In a way too, it's a memorial to the superb yachtsman Sir Peter Blake who was killed in 2001 by prates during an excursion to the Rio-Negro in Brazil during his time with the Cousteau Foundation as Head of Expeditions.

"Having vision is not enough. Change comes through realising the vision and turning it into a reality. It is easy to espouse worthy goals, values and policies; the hard part is implementation." - Sir Peter Blake

I won't forget his Red Socks or the day NZL 32 Black Magic with Team New Zealand won the 1995 America's Cup.


One ot those Saturdays...

One of those Saturday mornings when there was a streaker in the sky......

Two kids (one of them mine) having a huge laugh at BJ's Cafe while I had a mocha with my ex-husband (yes we do get along!) who was up to pick up the girls and take them out for the day. Had a great talk with Amy at the library then headed home to sort out stuff around the farm..

Loud Dog was planning to let me know just how loud
he could be now I was home....

His sad face caused me to feel sorry for him so he got a biscuit.....

He has very big teeth don't you think?

Um......that is one crazy looking Loud Dog!

As I got in the shopping two certain chickens
had headed for the open ranch slider...

Foiled by my fast sprint inside they gave me that.....look

Dark shadow of poultry Foiled!

And last but not least - Ocean my self appointed electric fence tester and wrecker banished to do the lawn mowing behind my house. Hmmm...... yes yesterday was definitely one of those days..oh what's new!