USDA Funds Genetic Engineering Research for Switchgrass Biofuels

-  July 24, 2014, Farmers’ Advance

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"238","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 222px; height: 167px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;"}}]]Michigan State University (MSU) plant biologist C. Robin Buell has been awarded $1 million from a joint U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program to accelerate genetic breeding programs to improve plant feedstock for the production of biofuels, bio-power and bio-based products.

Specifically, the MSU College of Natural Science researcher will work to identify the genetic factors that regulate cold hardiness in switchgrass, a plant native to North America that holds high potential as a biofuel source.

"This project will explore the genetic basis for cold tolerance that will permit the breeding of improved switchgrass cultivars that can yield higher biomass in northern climates," said Buell, also an MSU AgBioResearch scientist. "It's part of an ongoing collaboration with scientists in the USDA Agricultural Research Service to explore diversity in native switchgrass as a way to improve its yield and quality as a biofuel feedstock."

One of the proposed methods to increase the biomass of switchgrass, and therefore its utility as a biofuel, is to grow lowland varieties in northern latitudes, where they flower later in the season.