A team in the Forage Improvement group has been developing techniques that can make forage species such as perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) accumulate significantly more lipids in their leaves.
Under normal circumstances, plants
mainly produce these lipids in developing seeds and pollen, where the fat is used to provide energy for subsequent germination. Only a small amount of lipid is stored in the leaves and there is little opportunity to change this to any extent through conventional plant breeding.
Ryegrass typically has 4% lipids in its leaves. If scientists could double this to 8% in suitably robust and persistent ryegrasses, then farmers could potentially achieve the same productivity with 16% less forage consumed.
However, not all of the fat that animals ingest is available for production or body maintenance. This is because the fat is degraded in the rumen.
To slow down degradation of the fats in the rumen, scientists at AgResearch have patented a new protein which encapsulates and protects the fats from the rumen microbes, increasing the amount that makes it to the small intestine where they can be used by the animal and incorporated into its meat and milk.