Crop Biotech Update

US Plant Researchers Meet to Move Towards the Same Direction

September 15, 2011

The perennial grass Miscanthus × giganteus  has a promising role in biofuel production because of its fast growth rate and better conversion of sunlight into biomass compared to average plants. However, this grass still has a lot of genomic mysteries to unfold. At present, there are only few markers available that will guide breeders in tracking desirable genes. It is also a sterile hybrid, complicating attempts at genetic development.

"It has such great promise," says Neal Gutterson, president of Mendel Biotechnology, a company in Hayward, California, that is developing the grass as a biofuel crop. "But from a research perspective it is so painfully underdeveloped." Gutterson and a lot more scientists are hopeful that the first summit to map the future of US plant science to be held on September 22-23, hosted by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland, USA, will change the fate of M. × giganteus and other promising crops by encouraging researchers to tackle their genomic wilderness in a more systematic way.

According to Gutterson, the summit involves the expertise of ecologists, which is valuable because molecular biologists are striving hard to understand how the genes and processes they study, function in natural environments. Gary Stacey, an expert in host–microbe interactions in plants at the University of Missouri in Columbia, expects that summit participants will tout their favorite species, but he hopes for unity in the programs and technologies they push. "The tone might be different, but for once, we might be pulling together in the same direction."

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