For centuries, the farming of both crops and livestock has depended on selective breeding for particular characteristics. Today's understanding of organism systems, and particularly DNA, has led to changes in selection and breeding possibilities.
New Zealand researchers have extensive knowledge of the biology of industrially significant plants like grasses, trees, and crops (both arable and horticultural). Examples include ryegrass and Pinus radiata. This knowledge includes genetic information and improved tissue culture techniques.
Propagation of plants from tiny tissue nodules has been a niche business in New Zealand for nearly three decades. Also, researchers are contributing to genetic databases which can be, or are being used to create improved cultivars in shorter timeframes (for example, DNA from plants is screened prior to the plants being selected for breeding programmes).
Genetic modification also holds a lot of promise, but is less widely accepted by the New Zealand public.
New Zealand’s long history of large animal farming (sheep, dairy, beef, and more recently deer) has also created an environment that fosters scientific research into large animals.
Large animal biotechnologies have the potential to improve the competitiveness of New Zealand’s primary producers through the selection of superior livestock (as with plants, DNA is screened prior to the animals being selected for breeding programmes).
There is also potential to create new economic growth through a wide range of biotechnology applications. For example, AgResearch Animal Genomics has developed expertise in identifying genes and gene functions in sheep, cattle, and deer. This knowledge can be used to develop products and therapies.
Large animals can also be used as models for human disease, leading to better understanding of disease progression and potential treatments.
New Zealand’s biotechnology sector is also developing world-class research teams in areas like reproduction and cloning.
All research involving the manipulation of genes is carefully controlled by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA).
- 20 September 2007