New grasses for a new climate?

Media releases, New Zealand

An Australia-New Zealand biotechnology partnership is creating a new kind of grass that will reduce cattle burps, improve productivity, and help dairy farmers prepare for climate change.

The partnership will be assisted by a NZ$2 million grant announced by New Zealand Economic Development Minister Pete Hodgson last night.

He announced the funding as part of a NZ$3.8 million package of grants from the Australia New Zealand Biotechnology Partnership Fund (ANZBPF), which is awarded to New Zealand companies working with partners in Australia.

A new grass variety is being developed by Melbourne-based biotech company Gramina – a joint venture between Australia’s Molecular Plant Breeding Cooperative Research Centre (ANZBPF) and New Zealand rural services group PGG Wrightson Genomics Ltd. The joint venture was formed following previous ANZBPF grants to PGG Wrightson Ltd, the parent company of PGG Wrightson Genomics Ltd.

NZTE Biotechnology Group General Manager Peter Lennox says the fund is a ground-breaking initiative that encourages trans-Tasman collaboration in biotechnology.

“ANZBPF is designed to facilitate and accelerate partnerships between New Zealand and Australian biotech companies, and offers financial support for new and innovative proposals.”

New Zealand Trade Commissioner in Melbourne Shona Bleakley says: “This is a great example of Australian and New Zealand companies working together to create products with a global market.”

Gramina Chairman Dr Glenn Tong says the research will allow the development of grasses that thrive in warmer climates.

“Currently, the dairy farming pasture-grasses of choice are perennial ryegrass and tall fescue. Both are high quality, highly digestible grasses that cows love to eat – and a happy cow is a good milker,” he says.

“Unfortunately for the dairy industry, perennial ryegrass grows well only in temperate areas. With climate change some of these areas are becoming warmer.”

Grasses that grow best in warmer climates – so-called warm-season grasses – are harder for cows to digest which means excessive burping due to methane produced during digestion, and reduced milk production.

This project is targeting the warm-season grasses because they use a different photosynthetic pathway to their colder climate cousins. Warm-season grasses are much more efficient users of carbon dioxide and water.

The project uses a patented technology originally developed by MPBCRC scientists to improve the digestibility of temperate pasture grasses perennial ryegrass and tall fescue. It will take up to ten years to bring the new grasses to market.

In another separate pasture-grass project, ANZBPF is awarding a $NZ1.5 million grant to NZ Agriseeds Ltd to produce better pasture grasses in collaboration with MPBCRC.

They plan to enhance heat-stress tolerance, water efficiency and increased pest resistance into pasture grass using naturally occurring symbiotic fungi (endophytes).

An endophyte is a natural fungus that lives symbiotically within a pasture grass. Synthesising new designer endophytes will allow the development of new pasture grass products designed to thrive in specific environmental conditions.

A key benefit of the project is anticipated to be increased pastoral productivity.

A third project has also been awarded an ANZBPF grant: Australo Ltd is receiving a $NZ$281,250 grant to develop a diagnostic tool that can detect single biological molecules such as a DNA segment, in partnership with the Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) at the University of Queensland.

For more information:

Background Information

Australia New Zealand Biotechnology Partnership Fund

The Australia New Zealand Biotechnology Partnership Fund (ANZBPF) is a New Zealand Government initiative administered by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

The ANZBPF supports significant trans-Tasman alliances that develop greater regional strength, sustained profitability, access to, and competitiveness in, international markets for New Zealand’s biotechnology products and services.

The fund contributes up to 25 percent of the total project costs, with the New Zealand partner contributing another 25 percent and the Australian partner making up the remaining 50 per cent.

The ANZBPF was announced in September 2003 and opened for grant applications on 1 July 2004. The fund originally comprised $12 million (including grant and operational expenditure) to be allocated over three years (by 30 June 2007).  In 2007 the government announced a further $25m for appropriation over the next five years.

This year was the first since the fund’s inception that criteria have been expanded to allow existing trans-Tasman partnerships to apply for funding for new projects.

Only New Zealand companies or organisations are eligible.

The ANZBPF is designed to complement existing NZTE economic development services and support schemes offered by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST), Technology New Zealand (Tech NZ) and the Health Research Council (HRC). The ANZBPF will support development, marketing and manufacturing initiatives between New Zealand and Australia; it is not a research fund. NZTE may direct applicants to other NZTE, FRST or HRC schemes if the proposals received are deemed more suitable for these funds.

All dollar-figures quoted in this release are inclusive of GST.

Some past grants include:

·         A Christchurch-based company Keratec which is working with an Australian company, Australian Biotechnologies, to commercialise their patented bone graft technology using Functional Keratin™, a structural protein extracted from wool.

·         Industrial Research Ltd together with Australian-based biotechnology company Starpharma were funded to develop manufacturing samples of a new drug (VivaGelTM ) designed to prevent genital herpes and HIV-AIDS infections.

·         Neuren Pharmaceuticals is working with Metabolic Pharmaceuticals to accelerate the development and commercialisation of a drug targeting spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis