Associate professor Robert Speight, from the Queensland University of Technology, is working to "supercharge" yeast, a commonly used protein supplement for livestock.
"It’s the same yeast that would be added normally, but what we’re trying to do is up regulate one of its own enzymes which can also serve to aide digestion," he said.
"So normally this enzyme wouldn’t be produced in large amounts by the yeast.
"But by just making some small modifications, we can make it produce at much higher levels so it can give some benefit."
Speight is accelerating the natural evolutionary process by using a revolutionary gene modification technique, known as CRISPR-Cas9, to "cut and paste" DNA.
"We can do this in a couple of weeks as opposed to the evolutionary process which would take months," he explained.
Despite Speight’s inner city laboratory location being thousands of kilometres away from the large cattle stations of western Queensland, he said improved farm productivity was the end goal of the research.
"Really, what we want to see is as much of the energy and nutrients in the feed going into the animal to produce meat protein," he said.
The increased conversion of feed to weight gain would also bring associated environmental benefits, with less waste and a potential reduction in nutrient run-off.
Speight is also looking at how cheaper feeds, such as the fibrous sugar by-product bagasse, could be enhanced to deliver greater livestock nutrition.
"We’re looking at processes where we can pre-treat that bagasse to make it more digestible," he said.
"We’re trying to move to a low-cost feed, so we’re looking for economic benefits for the farmer."
Speight’s research comes as drought-affected Queensland farmers increasingly turn to supplementary feeds to keep their remaining stock alive.