The Use of Gene Modification and Advanced Molecular Structure Analyses towards Improving Alfalfa Forage

Lei Y., Hannoufa A. and Yu P.* (2017) The Use of Gene Modification and Advanced Molecular Structure Analyses towards Improving Alfalfa Forage. Int J Mol Sci. 18, 298 (doi:10.3390/ijms18020298)  Access to full text

Abstract

Alfalfa is one of the most important legume forage crops in the world. In spite of its agronomic and nutritive advantages, alfalfa has some imitations in the usage of pasture forage and hay supplement. High rapid degradation of protein in alfalfa poses a risk of rumen bloat to ruminants which could cause huge economic losses for farmers. Coupled with the relatively high lignin content, which impedes the degradation of carbohydrate in rumen, alfalfa has unbalanced and asynchronous degradation ratio of nitrogen to carbohydrate (N/CHO) in rumen. Genetic engineering approaches have been used to manipulate the expression of genes involved in important metabolic pathways for the purpose of improving the nutritive value, forage yield, and the ability to resist abiotic stress. Such gene modification could bring molecular structural changes in alfalfa that are detectable by advanced structural analytical techniques. These structural analyses have been employed in assessing alfalfa forage characteristics, allowing for rapid, convenient and cost-effective analysis of alfalfa forage quality. In this article, we review two major obstacles facing alfalfa utilization, namely poor protein utilization and relatively high lignin content, and highlight genetic studies that were performed to overcome these drawbacks, as well as to introduce other improvements to alfalfa quality. We also review the use of advanced molecular structural analysis in the assessment of alfalfa forage for its potential usage in quality selection in alfalfa breeding.

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