Ceres, Inc. has reached a major milestone in their switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) genomics program for enhancing biomass yield, completing the analysis of more than 12,000 switchgrass genes and characterizing the genetic variation associated with them.
Switchgrass is a perennial grass native to the prairies of North America and has been identified by the US Department of Energy as the primary perennial plant species for development as a dedicated cellulosic energy crop. Switchgrass has the potential to produce cellulose for biofuels such as ethanol and butanol on lands incapable of supporting traditional food crops.
The large-scale Ceres switchgrass sequencing effort has utilized libraries of full-length cDNAs rather than ESTs (partial genes), in order to capture information not only on complete gene sequences and encoded proteins but also on genetic variation associated with these genes that enables targeted, marker-assisted breeding programs for switchgrass improvement.
The generation of large numbers of full-length cDNA sequences, which are notably absent from most high-throughput gene sequencing programs because of technical difficulties, represents an important component of Ceres’ intellectual property strategy. To date, Ceres has filed patent applications covering over 70,000 full-length plant genes from Arabidopsis, corn, soybean, wheat and cotton, amongst others.
These switchgrass sequences are being utilized in our integrated genomics platforms and high-throughput product development pipeline. Using the sequences of these genes as well as the physical clones of our proprietary collection of full- length plant genes enhances our leading position in dedicated energy crop genomics and will accelerate breeding and commercialization of elite switchgrass varieties. These genes may also be useful in improvement programs of other crops such as corn.—Dr. Richard Hamilton, Chief Executive Officer of Ceres
In June, Ceres and The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation announced a broad, long-term collaboration for the development and commercialization of new, advanced biomass crops for fuel ethanol production.
The Noble Foundation is the world’s premier organization for conventional and molecular breeding of switchgrass and other perennial grass crops useful for renewable energy production. Combining the Noble Foundation’s extensive breeding infrastructure and experience base with Ceres’ advanced genomics technologies creates a powerful pipeline for commercializing improved energy crop varieties to meet the projected market for cellulosic ethanol.
Many speak of the potential for cellulosic ethanol production in the next decade. We will have advanced varieties in the near-term to assist in developing this industry. Seed of an advanced switchgrass variety, an initial product of this relationship, is already being multiplied in preparation for commercialization. This variety has been in development for a decade and consistently shows yield improvement of 20-35% over common varieties in comprehensive, multi-site field trials across the southeastern US.—Richard Hamilton
Under the terms of the agreement, Ceres will obtain an exclusive license to elite switchgrass germplasm and advanced varieties developed by breeders at the Noble Foundation as well as to varieties in-licensed to Noble’s breeding programs.
Initial projects under the collaboration agreement will expand upon the conventional and molecular breeding program at the Noble Foundation through integration of markers and other genomic technologies for development of enhanced switchgrass varieties and other energy crops for biomass and ethanol production. In addition, the Noble Foundation will undertake a practical, applied program for development of agronomic systems and best management practices aimed at optimizing biomass production and agriculture producer-education.
The switchgrass sequencing project is part of an agreement with the USDA Western Regional Research Center and of the collaboration with The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.
Ceres, Inc. is a privately-held plant biotechnology company focused on energy production, agriculture, human health and nutrition. Ceres is developing energy crops such as switchgrass, miscanthus and poplar for cellulosic ethanol as well as leveraging its technologies into established multi-billion dollar markets through strategic partnerships. Since 2002, Ceres has been deploying its traits and technologies in traditional row crops such as corn and soybean as part of a multi-year, $137-million license-based agreement with Monsanto.