Researchers at University of Georgia's Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory have mapped the genomes of two originator cells of Miscanthus x giganteus - a large perennial grass with promise as a source of ethanol and bioenergy.
Changsoo Kim, a postdoctoral research associate, identified a set of approximately 600 bits of Miscanthus DNA that can serve as diagnostic tools. The next step is to determine which pieces of DNA are diagnostic of genes that can make the plant an even better biofuel crop.
"What we are doing right now is taking the same individual plants that were used in the genetic map and measuring their height, flowering time, the size of their stalks, the dimensions of their leaves, and how far they have spread from where they were planted," said Andrew Paterson, a Distinguished Research Professor who led the research. "And then one can use pretty straightforward statistics to look for correlations between bits of DNA and a trait."
Miscanthus is a natural candidate for biomass farming. Its sugarcane-like stalks grow to more than 12 feet in height in soil of marginal quality; it requires very little fertilizer; it grows well in moist temperate climates across the United States, Europe, and Asia; and in the eastern U.S. it can produce more biomass on less acreage than other candidate biofuel crops.
Kim and Paterson's work will allow breeders to build on Miscanthus' natural strengths and remove some of its weaknesses. For example, a challenge to producing Miscanthus for biomass in the southeastern U.S. is that it tends to flower too soon. Flowering requires nutrients and energy that the plant would otherwise use to grow larger stalks and leaves.