Red meat industry set to benefit from new pasture grass research

By Rodney Woods

Australia’s red meat industry is set to benefit from new pasture grass research focused on increasing its production and profitability and helping to safeguard it in a changing climate.

Agriculture Victoria research scientists have generated the world’s first genomic reference for the pasture grass phalaris, a perennial grass commonly used in Australia’s red meat industry because it is persistent and supports high levels of animal production.

Until now very little has been known about the genetic make-up of phalaris, partly due to its complexity, and this has limited its genetic improvement.

Agriculture Victoria research scientists generated DNA sequences for more than 56 000 genes from the phalaris genome using its next generation sequencing and advanced scientific computing capabilities.

Within the phalaris genes more than 500 000 individual DNA markers were identified, including those that control important traits such as yield, persistence and seed retention.

Agriculture Victoria research scientist Noel Cogan said the research enabled pasture breeders and industry to develop elite pasture varieties using genomic selection.

“This research provides the basis for a genomic breeding program in phalaris that can create superior varieties for Australia’s red meat industry,” Dr Cogan said.

“We have set the scene for phalaris to join the ranks of other key livestock and plant species, like perennial rye-grass, that are experiencing significant rates of genetic gain and improvements.”

Dr Cogan said this research could be used to future-proof Victoria’s red meat industry in a changing climate.

“Phalaris could become hugely valuable due to its persistence and ability to adapt to hotter temperatures,” he said.

“In what is by far the largest contribution to genomic research in phalaris in the world, our research has set the basis for a modern phalaris breeding program using genomic selection approaches — it is now for industry to take the next step.”

The research was a collaboration between Agriculture Victoria, University of Melbourne and CSIRO.