Heart health and innovation

Image of Professor Timothy Colmer

Professor Timothy Colmer from UWA’s School of Plant Biology and Institute of Agriculture.

Heart-healthy wheat

Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia logo

The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) is a joint initiative of AusBiotech, CropLife Australia, the GRDC and the National Farmers’ Federation. ABCA has been established to help shape a new era for Australian agriculture by encouraging informed debate on biotechnology through the dissemination of credible, balanced, science-based information. Through the creation and sharing of research and knowledge, ABCA’s work aims to place biotechnology and gene technology into context as another invaluable innovation for Australian agriculture, ensuring that science guides public policy for the future of farming.

CSIRO scientists are hoping to breed wheat with similar cardiovascular health benefits to oats and barley. Researchers are growing GM wheat crops that include the gene that gives oats their cholesterol-lowering qualities.

Grain from the trial will be tested for its bread-making qualities as well as to determine if it has cholesterol-lowering properties.

Barley and oat grains contain high levels of a soluble fibre called beta-glucan that can reduce cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.

CSIRO principal research scientist Dr Steve Jobling is part of the team that recently discovered the key difference between beta-glucan in oats and wheat.

“There are very small differences in the enzyme that makes beta-glucan in wheat and oats. In fact, there is a single amino acid difference in the protein and we have found that single amino acid difference can change the structure and make it more soluble,” he says.

Record GM canola crop

Australia’s canola growers have purchased a record one million kilograms of GM canola seed, up 15 per cent on the last season, according to the latest figures released by Monsanto.

More than 436,000 hectares of GM canola are estimated to have been planted this year (up from nearly 350,000ha in 2014). GM varieties now make up 22 per cent of the canola planted in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

“Another strong increase in the area planted to Roundup Ready® canola varieties demonstrates the ongoing value growers see in the technology,” says Monsanto Australia managing director Daniel Kruithoff.

“Nearly 1200 farmers will grow GM canola this season, 20 per cent more growers than last year, and we expect this growth to continue,” he says.

Mr Kruithoff says Roundup Ready® canola provides growers with an effective tool to manage weeds that are costing about $1.5 billion to control, on top of lost production estimated at $2.5 billion a year.

Saline soil crops closer

Findings by researchers at the University of Western Australia (UWA) could assist the future development of crops able to be profitably grown in salty soils.

Professor Timothy Colmer, from UWA’s School of Plant Biology and Institute of Agriculture, says his team has studied how salt affects the reproductive processes in chickpea plants: “Our findings, together with other experiments on responses of photosynthesis and sugar supply for seed filling in saline conditions, improve our understanding of chickpea’s salt tolerance,” he says.

Professor Colmer says the team’s research also identified how different genotypes express resistance to saline soils.

GM crops proving value

Crop biotechnology continues to provide substantial economic and environmental benefits for farmers globally, allowing the consumption of fewer inputs and resources, according to the latest report by UK-based PG Economics.

Between 1996 and 2013, crop biotechnology was responsible for additional global production of 138 million tonnes of soybeans, 274 million tonnes of maize, an extra 21.7 million tonnes of cotton lint and eight million tonnes of canola.

If GM crops had not been available to growers in 2013, according to the report, maintaining global production at 2013 levels would have required additional plantings of 5.8 million hectares of soybeans, 8.3 million hectares of maize, 3.5 million hectares of cotton and 0.5 million hectares of canola.

PG Economics said that GM crops had contributed to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions through reduced fuel use and additional soil-carbon storage from reduced tillage. In 2013, this was equivalent to removing 28 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing 12.4 million cars from the road for one year. GM crops have also reduced pesticide use (1996–2013) by 550 million kilograms (8.6 per cent) since 1996.

The report estimated the net economic benefit at the farm level in 2013 at $20.5 billion, equal to an average increase in income of $122/ha.

“Australian growers using GM canola or cotton have reaped more than US$885 million (A$1215 million) in farm income benefits over the 18-year period covered by the report,” said Matthew Cossey, CropLife Australia’s CEO.

“The average Australian farmer growing GM canola had an average net increase in gross margins of approximately US$61/ha (A$83/ha) in 2013, which is a national increase of more than US$13 million (A$18 million),” Mr Cossey said.

India moves on GM mustard

Scientists in New Delhi, India, are hoping that oilseed mustard will be the next GM crop to be commercialised in the country following successful field trials.

The new GM mustard offers India a chance to substantially reduce its food import bill as it would be the highest-yielding oilseed in India, with yields 26 to 34 per cent higher than the national average.

Recently concluded biosafety studies did not show any adverse human health or environmental impact.

More information:

Australian Biotechnology Council of Australia


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