Campus News

Researchers’ genome map speeds biofuel development


UGA researchers have taken a major step in the ongoing effort to find sources of cleaner renewable energy by mapping the genomes of two originator cells of Miscanthus x giganteus, a large perennial grass with promise as a source of ethanol and bioenergy.

Changsoo Kim, a postdoctoral research associate in the Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory, identified a set of approximately 600 bits of Miscanthus DNA that can serve as diagnostic tools. The next step is to determine what pieces of DNA are diagnostic of genes that can make the plant an even better biofuel crop.

Kim’s work and the Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory are led by Andrew Paterson, a Distinguished Research Professor in the departments of genetics and plant biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the department of crop and soil sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“What we are doing right now is taking the same individual plants that were used in the genetic map and measuring their height, flowering time, the size of their stalks, the dimensions of their leaves and how far they have spread from where they were planted,” said Paterson, also a member of the Bioenergy Systems Research Institute. “And then one can use straightforward statistics to look for correlations between bits of DNA and a trait.”

Miscanthus is a natural candidate for biomass farming. Its sugarcane-like stalks grow to more than 12 feet in soil of marginal quality; it requires very little fertilizer; it grows well in moist temperate climates across the U.S., Europe and Asia; and in the eastern U.S. it can produce more biomass on less acreage than other crops.

Miscanthus also is a cleaner source of energy than are fossil fuels.  Rather than releasing carbon into the atmosphere, Miscanthus removes carbon from the atmosphere as it grows. When it is burned, it releases only the carbon it collected, effectively making it carbon neutral.