Scientists from Agriculture Victoria have made a world-first scientific discovery that could have various applications in pasture and crop agriculture and positive implications for Australia’s multi-billion dollar livestock industries.
The breakthrough is the first documented example of a gene being horizontally transferred from a fungal endophyte (organisms that live between living plant cells) to a flowering plant.
The work looked at the interaction between a particular fungal endophyte and perennial rye-grass, a flowering plant that is the low-cost home-grown feed stock that drives Australia’s clean and green $13.7billion dairy industry and is a major contributor to the industry’s competitive advantage.
Agriculture Victoria’s research leader of molecular genetics John Forster, who is a co-author of the paper describing the work, said the discovery pointed to an ‘‘evolutionary puzzle’’, which has now been decoded through the hard work and genetic sleuthing of a team of scientists at AgriBio, the Centre for AgriBioscience in Melbourne.
‘‘Horizontal gene transfer is not in itself uncommon — for example, between bacterial and land plants — but this is the first ever documented event of horizontal gene transfer from a fungus to a flowering plant,’’ Professor Forster said.
‘‘The scientific significance is in the rarity of the event, since flowering plants have been interacting with fungi for millions of years.’’
The knowledge will be used to breed better forage grasses to strengthen Australian agriculture.
This work was published in the journal Scientific Reports.