High-resolution Genetic Map Of Energy Crop Produced
March 19, 2012

High-resolution Genetic Map Of Energy Crop Produced

Welsh and American researchers have completed the first, most comprehensive high-resolution genetic map of the energy crop miscanthus. The researchers collaborated to create this image and published the results in the current edition of the online journal PLoS One.

Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. from Thousand Oaks, California worked hand-in-hand with the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University in Wales. As the IBERS team collected a series of genetically related energy crops, the Ceres team sequenced and analyzed the DNA. By creating this high-resolution genetic map, the team hopes to significantly shorten the development times of this new energy crop.

According to the journal, the Ceres researchers mapped each of the 19 chromosomes for miscanthus, a very tall, cane-like grass that can be used to feed advanced biofuels and biopower. After many years and more than 400 million DNA sequences of the plant, researchers finally have a genetic blueprint.

While other research attempts found only 600 genetic differences, or markers, and did not fully map the chromosomes of miscanthus, this new research found more than 20,000 markers. Of these 20,000 markers, the research team used more than 3,500 to create the full genetic map. This map will help farmers and other research teams improve the value of future miscanthus crops, making it more widely available for different crops and uses.

Miscanthus has been grown overseas in Europe for more than two decades, mostly for electricity generation. However, using it on a larger scale for commercial production is not yet a viable solution, due to high production costs and few areas in which to grow the plant.

Richard Flavell, Ph.D., FRS, CBE and Chief Scientific Officer at Ceres wrote in the journal: “By defining the genetic diversity in our germplasm collections with the new DNA markers, we can more rapidly introduce important crop traits into our new, seed-propagated miscanthus products.”

Currently, miscanthus takes a long time to grow and a significant amount of money to cultivate. Flavell hopes this study will reduce the time it takes to grow the plant, as well as make it cheaper for more farmers to grow. Ceres is currently testing its new form of miscanthus in different locations.

In addition to growing these crops in many different locations, this genetic map will provide genetic insight on the plant, allowing farmers and researchers to create a heartier and healthier plant.

“The joint miscanthus development program with Ceres has provided new insight into the evolution of the species as well as the similarities and differences in populations across different countries and environments,” said Iain Donnison,  Ph.D., and head of the bioenergy team at IBERS, “This rich library of information took decades to produce in other crops, but with modern biology and genomics technology Ceres and IBERS have put together what I believe is one of the world´s most comprehensive marker-based breeding programs in miscanthus.”

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council which funded this study, is excited to see the way this study is moving forward.

“The collaboration between IBERS and Ceres is a great example of how industry and academia can work together to increase the commercial potential of the UK´s research resources, both at home and internationally,” said Kell.