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red clover genome for sustainable farming

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November 30, 2015

The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) in collaboration with IBERS, has sequenced and assembled the DNA of red clover to help breeders improve the beneficial traits of this important forage crop. The genome is published in Scientific Reports, a journal from the Nature publishing group.

Before industrial nitrogen fertiliser production (from fossil fuels), red clover and other legume crops were essential in crop rotation, improving soil fertility. Legumes boost soil nitrate fertility by assimilating nitrogen from the air, recruiting soil bacteria to help – this is considerably more eco-friendly than the equivalent industrial process.

Indeed, environmental concerns and climate change mitigation is putting red clover back in the spotlight. This requires genetic improvements to help boost its performance.

Red clover’s chief benefits (alongside soil improvement) is to provide a protein-rich livestock feed – it also boosts omega-3 fatty acids in ruminant milk. Compared to white clover and other legumes, red clover has high levels of an enzyme that causes its’ protein to be digested more slowly and effectively – it’s more nutritious per mouthful.

However, currently, red clover only grows well for two or three seasons and it does not recover well from grazing by livestock. It also does not lend itself easily to traditional crop breeding practices, with severe loss of vigour and fertility if inbred. An ongoing project at TGAC and IBERS aims to use a collection of diverse natural lines of red clover for breeding new elite varieties more tolerant to grazing, thus making it more persistent, and to understand the domestication process that led to the adoption of red clover as a crop… READ ON

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