Miscanthus DNA sequenced at Aberystwyth

A significant breakthrough in the development of miscanthus as an energy crop has been achieved by researchers at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences and USA-based, Ceres.

The IBERS team created the collection of genetically related plants and Ceres sequenced and analysed the DNA, using a development which in other crops has significantly shortened product development timelines.

The multi-year project involved generation and analysis of more than 400 million DNA sequences creating a blueprint of the genetic alphabet of the plant.

Among the massive volumes of data, researchers found 20,000 genetic differences, called markers, that allow geneticists to differentiate individual plants based on small variations in their DNA.

Ceres Chief Scientific Officer, Richard Flavell, says the rapid improvements in breeding made possible by this mapping project are needed for miscanthus to be more widely used as an energy crop.

“While it has been grown on a small scale across Europe for two decades, primarily for electricity generation, large-scale commercial production is not economically viable at this time due to high production costs and few commercially available miscanthus cultivars,” he says.

“But 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.”

Unlike the most popular current miscanthus that was vegetatively propagated, Ceres’ seeded types were expected to require significantly less time, effort and money to be bred for different environments and established by growers.

Professor Iain Donnison, head of the IBERS bio-energy team, says that in addition to its use in developing new products, the mapping project had provided greater insight into how the miscanthus genome compared to other well-understood crop plants.

Previously, most miscanthus research had been focused on field trials and little was known about its genetics.

The collaborative research has received funding as part of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Sustainable Bio-energy Centre.

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