Jenni Metcalfe jenni at econnect.com.au
Fri May 20 13:49:32 EST 2005

Australia's 1.8 million hay-fever sufferers could soon be receiving some much-needed relief, courtesy of a new genetically modified grass.


Speaking at the CRCA National Conference in Melbourne, PhD student Natasha Petrovska outined the new low allergy ryegrass. 


The ryegrass project, which involves scientists from Melbourne's LaTrobe University, has genetically modified perennial and Italian ryegrasses, two types commonly found in Australia's lawns, parks and golf courses.


Natasha's PhD has focused on silencing the genes responsible for production of proteins which cause allergies.


"We could not remove the gene altogether" says Natasha, "Because it could have an important function in the plant, such a reproductive development." 


The plants are growing in a university glasshouse, but will not be available for commercial sale for about five years.


"Last year we did a small scale field trial in the US, now we are conducting a larger scale trial in the US. We want to know how far the pollen from the grasses could spread, and if the genes from the pollen could move to other parts of the plant."


Natasha says so far the tests have been successful, and the non-allergenic gene is kept within the pollen. The next step is to modify the grass using only ryegrass genetic material. 


"At the moment we just have different qualities in different plants," says Natasha. "We are hoping very soon to create a full package."


Currently the only remedies available to hayfever sufferers include drugs like antihistamines or immunotherapy. "Immunologists usually say the best treatment is avoidance," says Natasha, "But to stay away from pollen altogether- that is almost impossible in spring months. If we develop a grass with less allergens we can help these people."


Natasha has been working with the Cooperative Research Centre for Molecular Plant Breeding, a relationship she hopes will continue as her research develops.  "I would like to continue involvement with the CRC. I am seriously considering staying on with this project."


The next step in ryegrass modification is to make it more attractive to the general public. As debate over genetic modification continues, Natasha hopes the public will accept the benefits of low allergy rye grass. 


"With genetic modification, I hope that one day in the future the public will accept it, but with drought and other issues looming, we might not have a choice one day."


To contact Natasha Petrovska, call 0412 603 907

Media contact: Jenni Metcalfe; Phone 0408 551 866

Jenni Metcalfe
Econnect Communication Pty Ltd
PO Box 734
South Brisbane Q 4101

Phones: 07 3846 7111; 0408 551 866; 07 3254 0354 (home)
Fax: 07 3846 7144
Email: jenni at econnect.com.au
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