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May 14th, 2012
Everyone’s heard the phrase “snake in the grass” at one point or another, but there’s more lurking in those seemingly innocent stalks of green than a metaphorical reptile.
Ergot alkaloids are chemicals produced by fungi that live in grasses found in most lawns and pastures, and they can really do a number on livestock. They can hurt weight gain and fertility – two of the most desired outcomes in animal agriculture.
A West Virginia University researcher has been studying these ergot alkaloids and the fungi for over a decade, devising ways to minimize their negative effects without hampering their benefits to host grasses.
“Ergot alkaloids can be beneficial to plants,” said Dan Panaccione, Davis-Michael Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences. “They can help plants by discouraging feeding by insects and mammals.”
It’s that last defense mechanism that can pose a problem for livestock producers who rely on grasses as a significant component of their herds’ diet.
“These chemicals can cause poor weight gain, impair the animals’ ability to reproduce, make them more subject to heat stress, and even cause circulatory problems,” Panaccione said.
He’s studied the fungi that produce ergot alkaloids at the genetic level. Now, with the support of a $500,000 grant from the USDA, he’s taking that knowledge base to the next level.
“This grant will support our efforts to eliminate some of the genes of the fungi that live in the grasses and hopefully change the spectrum of ergot alkaloids that they create,” Panaccione said.
Read the entire story on WVUToday.
Photo: Finding Fungi — Dan Panaccione and Katy Ryan examine fungi at the genetic level. (WVUPhoto by Lindsay Willey.)
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