Kim and Paterson's work will allow breeders to build on Miscanthus' natural strengths and remove some of its weaknesses. For example, a significant 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 taller, thicker stalks and leaves.
"You don't want it to flower," Paterson said. "You'd like it to keep making leaves and stalks and not bother with reproduction. Nature tells it not to do that."
The genetic map will allow Kim and Paterson to locate Miscanthus genes responsible for flowering and prevent it from happening too early in the growing season. That will leave farmers with tall, hearty plants that will yield the most biomass possible.
Their efforts caught the attention of venture capitalists and biotechnology companies that hope to make Miscanthus farming a profitable and widespread practice. One company, Mendel Biotechnology, was so interested in the potential crop they partnered with Kim and Paterson on their Miscanthus project.
Mendel distributes plants and plant seed that have been enhanced through genetic research to farmers and other industry partners for bioenergy crop production. "There is a lot of basic research that we cannot afford to do," said Donald Panter, senior vice president of BioEnergy Seeds at Mendel. "We are a company that is trying to commercialize a product and serve our customers, so our relationship to academia in the U.S. is critical."
The genetic map promises to save Mendel many years of field research to improve Miscanthus. Without the map, researchers and breeders must go out into farm
|Contact: Andrew Paterson |
University of Georgia