Making grass greener: CIAT breeds tropical pasture that suppresses greenhouse gas emissions

argylesock says… Here’s a pasture grass called Brachiaria humidicola from South American savannahs, where soil nitrogen is scarce. It grows well there because its roots secrete brachialactone. That secretion reduces nitrous oxide emissions. Michael Peters has bred that grass to maximise the brachialactone effect. I think his team used selective breeding to do that. Now they’re trying to isolate the brachialactone genes. Then, they hope, they’ll be able to use genetic modification (GM, also called genetic engineering, GE) to insert them into other crops. It’s worth reading the report in Nature, which explains the brachialactone science and also reminds us of low-tech ways to reduce emissions. Farmers can refine how and when they apply fertilizers, how often they till the soil, and how they rotate crops to include nitrogen-fixing legumes.

ILRI Clippings

NP brachiaria3

Guillermo Sotelo of CIAT’s entomology team, working with brachiaria grass in a greenhouse at the institution’s headquarters in Colombia (picture credit: CIAT/Neil Palmer).

‘. . . On 13 September, researchers announced that they have bred a tropical pasture grass that can significantly suppress greenhouse-gas emissions. The team, from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia, is working with Dow AgroSciences, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, to get seeds onto the market in the next 3–5 years. . . .

‘The solution, says Michael Peters, an agronomist at CIAT and leader of the team that has developed the low-emissions grass, is to encourage ammonium to persist in the soil for longer, by suppressing microbial activity. . . .

‘In the 1980s, CIAT researchers noticed that some grasses grow well even without fertilizer — particularly Brachiaria humidicola, which is adapted to low-nitrogen South American savannahs. After years of hunting…

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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