Researchers from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Sustainable Bioenergy Centre (BSBEC) have discovered a family of genes that could help us breed grasses with improved properties for diet and bioenergy.
The research was carried out by a team from the University of Cambridge and Rothamsted Research, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC. Their findings are published today (Tuesday 17 Jan) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The genes are important in the development of the fibrous, woody parts of grasses, like rice and wheat. The team hopes that by understanding how these genes work, they might for example be able to breed varieties of cereals where the fibrous parts of the plants confer dietary benefits or crops whose straw requires less energy-intensive processing in order to produce biofuels.
The majority of the energy stored in plants is contained within the woody parts, and billions of tons of this material are produced by global agriculture each year in growing cereals and other grass crops, but this energy is tightly locked away and hard to get at. This research could offer the possibility of multi-use crops where the grain could be used for food and feed and the straw used to produce energy efficiently. This is crucial if we are to ensure that energy can be generated sustainably from plants, without competing with food production.
Professor Paul Dupree, of the University of Cambridge, explains "Unlike starchy grains, the energy stored in the woody parts of plants is locked away and difficult to get at. Just as cows have to chew the cud and need a stomach with four compartments to extract enough energy from grass, we need to use energy-intensive mechanical and chemical processing to produce biofuels from straw.
"What we hope to do with this research is to produce varieties of plants where the woody parts yield their energy much mo
|Contact: Mike Davies|
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council