Researchers from Aberystwyth University in Wales and US-based energy crop company Ceres, Inc. have collaborated to complete the first high-resolution, comprehensive genetic map of Miscanthus, a promising energy crop. The results are published in the current edition of the online journal PLoS One.
The team from the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth created the collection of genetically related plants and Ceres then sequenced and analyzed the DNA. In other crops, this type of comprehensive genetic mapping has significantly shortened product development timelines.
Ceres researchers mapped all 19 chromosomes of Miscanthus, a cane-like grass that can be used as a feedstock for advanced biofuels, bio-products and biopower. The multi-year project involved generation and analysis of more than 400 million DNA sequences.
Researchers found 20,000 genetic differences (markers), that allow geneticists to differentiate individual plants based on small variations in their DNA. More than 3,500 of these markers were used to create the genetic map, and are valuable for crop improvement purposes. Previously announced mapping projects discovered only about 600 markers and did not fully characterize the structure of all the miscanthus chromosomes, a necessary step in establishing a high-tech plant breeding program.
Ceres Chief Scientific Officer Richard Flavell, PhD, FRS, CBE says that 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.
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.—Richard Flavell
Flavell said that unlike the most popular current Miscanthus that is vegetatively propagated, Ceres’ seeded types are expected to require significantly less time, effort and money to be bred for different environments and to be established by growers. Ceres is currently evaluating its improved seeded Miscanthus varieties in multiple locations.
Iain Donnison, PhD, head of the bioenergy team at IBERS, notes that, in addition to its use in developing new products, the mapping project has provided greater insight into how the Miscanthus genome compares 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 received funding as part of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Sustainable Bioenergy Centre (BSBEC). This innovative academic-industry research partnership underpins development in the important and emerging bioenergy sector. Both Ceres and IBERS are contributing members of BSBEC.
Ma X-F , Jensen E , Alexandrov N , Troukhan M , Zhang L , et al. (2012) High Resolution Genetic Mapping by Genome Sequencing Reveals Genome Duplication and Tetraploid Genetic Structure of the Diploid Miscanthus sinensis. PLoS ONE 7(3): e33821. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033821