Researchers with Forage Genetics International are studying the effects that genetically engineered white clover has on livestock digestion. Field testing began this year in Wisconsin, under a permit from the USDA which will expire in 2020.
The field trial involves growing white clover plants. They contain a gene necessary to create condensed tannins which will bind to proteins and prevent them from being digested too quickly. The results should improve the absorption of protein. The project also aims to reduce the loss of nitrogen into the environment and potentially create grazing options that would create less bloat in livestock. When proteins are not adequately digested they are excreted as urea before becoming ammonia.
The biotech developer is devoted exclusively to forage and is most recognized for genetically modified alfalfa that withstands glyphosate herbicides. The current research on condensed tannins seems to be geared toward strictly using alfalfa to feed cattle rather than a mixture of crops.
The study is still early going and researchers have yet to determine whether the gene from the transgenic white clover will effectively be transferred to alfalfa. More data will need to be collected before the best method of use for the technology can be established to effectively improve livestock digestion. One of the challenges is finding the correct amount of condensed tannins to use. The ingestion of too many condensed tannins can inhibit protein digestion.