Govt backs Wallaby gene research

Published: April 2, 2004
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THE Victorian government has backed a $12 million study of a wallaby species that might lead to better treatments for cancer and spinal cord injury, it was announced in Melbourne today.

But Victorian Nationals leader Peter Ryan said the government was promoting itself as a bio-technology leader with the wallaby study days after it banned commercial trials of genetically modified canola.

Innovation Minister John Brumby announced today the state government would add $3 million to the $1.5 million it had already pledged to the project, managed by the Australian Genome Research Facility and the US National Institutes of Health.

Mr Brumby said the government contributed the extra money after the Queensland and federal governments declined a request to match Victoria’s contribution.

He said marsupials had unique attributes relating to fertility, reproduction, seasonal breeding, pregnancy, lactation and sex determination and differentiation.

“Unlocking the secrets of these novel genomes could lead to better milk production in cows, novel antibiotics and treatments for diseases such as cancer and spinal cord damage in humans and mad cow disease in cattle,” Mr Brumby said.

He said the information would be available to health and agricultural researchers and would build relationships between Australian and American scientists.

But Mr Ryan said farmers were set to miss out on gene research.

“I’m sure all those in the agricultural industry will find it absolutely amazing that the government is promoting itself as a bio-technology leader but has turned its back on bio-technology developments in agriculture,” Mr Ryan said.

“I am sure there will be long-term benefits – very long-term – in the wallaby project, but there are defined benefits already proven when it comes to GM canola for our farmers and they are available now.

“They include boosted yields from GM varieties, less use of herbicides and the ability to build on the latest crop technology available.”