Biotech Updates

Miscanthus Reported as A Better "Biofuel Grass" Than Switchgrass

September 11, 2009

Grasses have often been reported as one of the "next-generation" biofuel feedstocks (for cellulose ethanol production), because they possess many characteristics of an ideal biofuel crop (i.e., low agricultural inputs, good carbon balance (carbon neutral to carbon negative), good energy balance, non-food based, etc). In the United States, switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and miscanthus (Miscanthus giganteus, Miscanthus sinensis, etc) have been the subject of many research studies to evaluate their biofuel feedstock potential. A recent study by University of Georgia scientists (United States) indicate that both grasses may not be "created equal", and one has a better biofuel potential than the other. According to Andrew Paterson, Director of the University of Georgia Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory, Miscanthus produces two times as much tonnage as switchgrass. Miscanthus, which is commonly used as an ornamental grass in Georgia, "grows more than 12 feet tall with wispy white flowers that clump together to look like large feathers". As a potential energy crop for large scale applications, Professor Patterson is studying ways to improve Miscanthus by molecular biology techniques. He recently received a US$1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy, to study the plant's genes. Miscanthus is said to be closely related to sugarcane and sorghum, two plants he has extensively researched. Professor Paterson will first "figure out how the 19 chromosomes that make up Miscanthus relate to the 10 found in sorghum". Then, he hopes "to translate what we know about sorghum to accelerate Miscanthus improvement"..