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GMO clover that could improve livestock digestion in field tests

| | August 21, 2017
This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

Forage Genetics, which is best known for alfalfa that’s genetically modified to withstand glyphosate herbicides, began field testing the transgenic clover in Wisconsin this year under a USDA permit that expires in 2020.

The clover contains a gene that’s important for the company’s efforts to engineer “condensed tannins” into alfalfa forage, said Stephen Temple, the company’s biotechnology director, in an email.

Condensed tannins bind to proteins, preventing them from being digested too quickly and improving the cow’s protein absorption, said John Grabber, a dairy forage researcher with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

However, if the cow ingests too many condensed tannins, the binding mechanism will actually impede digestion of protein, he said.

“We don’t want to protect it too much so the protein goes right through the cow and comes out the other end,” Grabber said.

While one study has shown that birdsfoot trefoil — a plant that naturally contains condensed tannins — boosts milk production, other studies haven’t found this correlation, he said.

If protein can be absorbed more efficiently by cows, it would also have environmental benefits, Grabber said. Undigested protein is excreted as urea, which is converted to ammonia.

“We’re hoping tannins might be able to reduce ammonia emissions from farms,” he said.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. Read full, original post: Biotech company studies GMO clover

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