Red fescue made better with spit

Researchers and ranchers know the problems certain grasses can cause grazing animals.

However, researcher Dawn Bazely might have found a solution: moose drool.

Bazely, a biology professor at York University, and colleagues Mark Vicari and Andrew J. Tanentzap have found that saliva from moose, reindeer and caribou affect red fescue grass and the fungus epichloë festucae, which produces the toxin ergovaline.

Grazing cattle can eat red fescue but are negatively affected by it. It isn’t as widely used as a pasture grass in North America as is tall fescue, but it is more common in Europe.

Bazely and her team were inspired by an earlier study done by Margareta Bergman and the effect of moose saliva on trees and shrubs, which told them there was something different about moose saliva.

The researchers started by growing the fungus on petri dishes and cutting infected red fescue with scissors to simulate grazing.

They then applied moose salvia collected from zoos in Toronto and Quebec to the petri dishes and the red fescue.

The results were unexpected: the saliva detoxified the fungus by 40 to 70 percent.

“We laugh about it now because I would say, ‘come on you guys, you’re crazy, there’s no way you’re going to get an effect. It’s just too nuts. But by all means let’s do it and make sure we have a strong experimental design’, ” said Bazely.

The experiment has opened up many possibilities.

“The next step for me would be to work with biochemists and chemical ecologists to actually identify the biochemistry of this interaction.”

She is also interested in using other animals’ spit to see if there is a similar effect.

They used human saliva last year when they ran out of moose saliva and it was trending in the same direction, although not as strong.

Bazely wants to look at the effect of the saliva on other types of fescue grass such as tall fescue, which is a problem in North America. She said saliva could have a similar effect as on the red fescue, but she won’t know until she furthers her research.

She said her findings have agricultural implications, but more research needs to be done.

“Our hypothesis would be any detoxification effect of the moose saliva is very likely to have a carry-over effect because the ergovaline is a toxin that affects everything from locusts to armyworms,” said Bazely.

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