Student's case for GE ryegrass in dairy industry wins top science award

A Canterbury student's presentation on how genetically modified ryegrass could be a gamechanger for the New Zealand dairy industry has won a top science award.

Cashmere High School student Lila Madden won the Premier Award in the 2019 Sir Paul Callaghan Eureka! Awards. 

Anthony Scott, chief executive of Science New Zealand, platinum sponsor of the Awards, said the awards were open to secondary school and undergraduate tertiary students under 25.

"The awards encourage more young people to explore and communicate how science and technology can be applied to contribute to New Zealand's economic, environmental, social and cultural wellbeing," he said.

Madden beat 11 other finalists from around New Zealand with her presentation Revolutionary Ryegrass, which looked at the case for the introduction of HME (high metabolizable energy) ryegrass. 

A team of AgResearch scientists is currently working on the genetically modified ryegrass and are carrying out field trials in the United States.

In her presentation, Madden argued that New Zealand needed to consider the benefits of the grass.

She outlined how HME ryegrass, which the AgResearch scientists developed by inserting two genes into ryegrass - one from nasturtium flowers and one from sesame seeds - could be a climate change gamechanger for our dairy industry.

Madden said HME ryegrass benefits identified included, better growth in grazing stock, reduced water usage, reduced nitrate emissions, reduced demand for imported (often palm oil derived) feed for stock and up to a 23 percent decrease in methane emissions.

Highly-commended awards were won by Cullen Tran from Scots College, Wellington and Marie Potthoff, Massey University.

The awards comprise regional competitions and then a national competition for the regional winners. 

Prizes include scholarships and awards - up to $10,000 for the winner of the Premier Award - plus internships.