Skip to main content
ARS Home » Midwest Area » Madison, Wisconsin » U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center » Cell Wall Biology and Utilization Research » Research » Research Project #422315

Research Project: Removing Limitations to the Efficient Utilization of Alfalfa and Other Forages in Dairy Production, New Bio-Products, and Bioenergy to...

Location: Cell Wall Biology and Utilization Research

Project Number: 5090-21000-055-00-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Jan 25, 2013
End Date: Dec 4, 2017

Obj. 1: Increase profitability, improve animal welfare & reduce manure production by improving the digestibility & energy conversion efficiency of forages in dairy rations by manipulating forage cell-wall biosynthetic pathways to lower indigestible residue formation, lower waste production, & develop more efficient tools for evaluating forage quality. Sub-Obj. 1.1: Use genetic manipulation of biosynthetic pathways (e.g., lignin, lignin modifications, lignin cross-linking, ferulate cross-linking, structural polysaccharides) to identify avenues for altering cell wall digestibility & the formation of indigestible residues. Sub-Obj. 1.2: Develop methods to provide rapid screening of plant materials for chemical characteristics related to improved energy conversion efficiency and/or other nutrient quality factors. Obj. 2: Increase profitability & reduce the amount of nitrogen-containing wastes that enter the environment by reducing protein loss during the post-harvest storage & livestock consumption of alfalfa & other forages through manipulation of forage phenolic metabolic pathways. Sub-Obj. 2.1: Gain knowledge of factors that influence accumulation of hydroxycinnamyl-conjugates (e.g., phaselic acid, clovamide, chlorogenic acid) utilizable by PPO systems in forages with respect to efficacy in post-harvest proteolytic inhibition, as well as combating abiotic stress (UV, ozone). Sub-Obj. 2.2: Determine the chemical basis for proteolytic inhibition caused by classes of tannins & polyphenol oxidase-generated o-quinones. Obj. 3: Develop novel alfalfa harvesting & management technologies & strategies that increase forage biomass quality & quantity; increase nutrient availability for dairy; decrease forage input costs in integrated dairy systems; promote novel bio-products & reduce nutrient losses (N&P) to the environment. Sub-Obj. 3.1: Determine how alfalfa selected for improved stem nutritive value influences harvest management strategies & ruminant performance. Sub-Obj. 3.2: Use unique harvesting practices coupled with on-farm treatment & storage to create protein-rich fractions that produce value-added products from alfalfa. Sub-Obj. 3.3: Prevent excessive leaf loss during plant development & harvesting by gaining more knowledge of hydrolytic and regulatory factors involved in leave abscission in alfalfa, thus leading to gene-based strategies for improvement. Sub-Obj. 3.4: Develop equipment & technologies for cost-effective separation of leaf & stem fractions of alfalfa & of perennial grasses. Sub-Obj. 3.5: Develop cost-effective, farm-scale technology for on-farm pretreatment using chemicals or enzymes (finish current project). Sub-Obj. 3.6: Optimize production of adhesive components in CBP fermentations & expand end-use formulations of adhesives containing fermentation residues. Sub-Obj. 3.7: Develop whole-farm, system-based databases & models to simulate/forecast economic & environmental impacts of implementing new & existing bioenergy practices on dairy or beef farms in the Upper Midwest. This effort will be coordinated with similar production-modeling efforts at other ARS locations.

We will utilize a multidisciplinary approach combining plant physiology/biochemistry, chemistry, agronomy, molecular biology and genetics. Forages provide unique nutritional and environmental opportunities to improve sustainable farming systems that help ensure food security. To enhance positive characteristics of forages, work will focus on: improving cell wall digestibility under high biomass production; and capturing more plant protein in products, e.g., milk and plant bio-products, while generating less nitrogen waste. Improved utilization of cell walls can be achieved through manipulation of genes involved in biosynthesis of structural carbohydrates and lignin. Small changes in cell wall composition may lead to decreased cross-linking and increased digestibility (Objective 1). Cell wall screening methods based on nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and Fourier transformed infrared spectroscopy will be used to identify chemical characteristics related to improved energy conversion efficiency. Molecular approaches will be used to modify plant biosynthetic pathways (lignification, cell wall cross-linking, structural polysaccharides) to identify avenues for altering cell wall digestibility. Efficient capture of protein nitrogen in the rumen is related to slowing protein degradation and availability of adequate digestible carbohydrate. Molecular, chemical, and biochemical approaches will be used to determine the roles of polyphenol oxidase/o-diphenols and tannins in decreasing protein degradation during ensiling and in the rumen (Objective 2). Molecular approaches will be used to alter plants for reduced protein loss during post-harvest storage and during livestock consumption of forages. A polyphenol oxidase/o-diphenol system will be inserted into alfalfa to protect proteins during ensiling. Chemical characterization of polyphenol (e.g., o-quinones and tannins) interactions with proteins will reveal mechanisms to protect proteins from degradation and provide selection criterion for forage improvement. Multiple approaches will be used to improve forage biomass production for improve animal performance and new bio-products (Objective 3). Molecular approaches will be used to down-regulate leaf abscission genes which would prevent excessive leaf loss, preserving the protein-rich fraction of alfalfa. To improve forage biomass production for increased nutrient availability and novel bio-products, field-grown alfalfa selected for increased stem digestibility will be evaluated to reveal its potential for improved animal performance. Analysis of alfalfa leaves during plant development will determine potential changes in protein and, coupled with new harvesting techniques, will lead to improved quality, as well as new bio-products to increase utilization of alfalfa in farming systems. This project plan will increase our knowledge and understanding of current limitations associated with forage utilization and provides avenues to overcome these limitations.