Increased wool growth and live weight gain in Merino sheep are the results of a recent Australian feeding trial using genetically modified lupins.
The CSIRO trial explored nutritional benefits of lupin seeds genetically modified to incorporate a sunflower gene that stimulates the production of a highly nutritious protein.
CSIRO Livestock Industries' Dr Colin White says the feeding trial resulted in an eight per cent increase in wool growth and a seven per cent increase in live weight gain in the sheep fed the modified lupins. All sheep in the trial maintained good health and are doing well.
"The results have the potential to be converted into an additional 160 tonnes of wool per year. In other words farmers could produce more wool from the same number of sheep, or alternatively they could produce the same amount of meat or wool with fewer sheep and lower cost," says Dr White.
The GMAC-approved trial was conducted over six weeks with 80 sheep that were divided equally into two groups and fed a cereal-hay based diet containing either modified or unmodified lupin seed.
CSIRO Plant Industry scientist, Dr TJ Higgins, says this research potentially offers a valuable boost to Australian wool by reducing costs, increasing profits and making production more efficient.
The lupin is the major legume grain used on-farm as supplementary feed for sheep during the summer drought, with approximately 200,000 tonnes of the 1.2 million tonnes produced annually in South-western Australia used for this purpose.
"Wool and muscle growth has a high demand for sulphur amino acids, which are absorbed through the sheep's small intestine," says Dr Higgins, "but the sheep's first stomach, the rumen, tends to break down up to 40% of these essential nutrients before they reach the intestine."
"We have modified the lupin to contain a sunflower gene that produces a protein that is both rich in sulfur amino acids and stable in the sheep's rumen. This protein acts as an efficient package for delivering the extra sulfur amino acids where they are needed to achieve better growth.
"We are pleased with the results which are a culmination of over ten years of research, including a stringent environmental safety assessment process."
With successful results from the lupin trials, the researchers are currently working towards similar positive results with subterranean clover, an important pasture plant for the wool industry.
All CSIRO gene technology research is carried out according to the strict guidelines of the Federal Government's Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee (GMAC).
The research is supported by grain-growers and the Federal Government through the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and by the Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA).
The findings will appear in the international Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture.
Materials provided by CSIRO Australia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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