The piece of equipment is called a MinION and Fonterra’s principal scientist, Shalome Bassett, said it’s already playing a key part in Fonterra’s choices to focus on New Zealand milk, be a leader in sustainability and to lead in innovation and science.
“The MinION is a genome sequencing device that can spit out DNA results from bacteria at a fast pace and a quarter of the cost,” she said.
“It is giving us a real step up in our Kowbucha project, which is looking to use probiotics as a natural way to reduce the methane produced by cows and lower New Zealand’s carbon emissions. Until recently, we had to send DNA from potential probiotic strains overseas for sequencing.”
This could usually take weeks or months, but the new technology allowed them to do it hours in New Zealand.
“It means we’ll be able to unlock the secrets of more dairy cultures for Kowbucha, selected from our collection of 40,000 dairy cultures stored at our Research and Development Centre in Palmerston North.
“Whole Genome Sequencing can provide amazing amounts of information and we recently sequenced more than 500 cultures, which generated 1.4 terabytes of data, or the equivalent of 50 million A4 pages worth of text.
“As far as we know we are the only dairy company in the world which manufactures our own starter cultures that we use in our factories to create everyone’s favourite dairy products, like yoghurt and cheese.”
In New Zealand the company was the only commercial manufacturer of probiotic strains, which have been shown to help people improve their mental and physical health and wellbeing, she said.
Fonterra has been working on genome sequencing with The Institute of Environmental Science and Research and Massey University, and have also received funding from the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment.
“Along with our research partners, we wanted to develop this genome sequencing capability in New Zealand for use by other New Zealand food companies.
“This would provide everyone with greater food safety and quality assurance and protection of New Zealand’s reputation, as well as better health.”