Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), along with their colleagues at the Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute, have declared the successful completion of the first wild grass sequencing. Along with it a primary research paper published today, on February, 11th. This sequencing can help researchers understand the genetics of Brachypodium distachyon – a wheat family, and insert foreign genes to make it more suitable for biofuel production.
There are many advantages of using switchgrass or any perennial grass as biofuel feedstocks. It is easier to grow; takes up less space for the same amount of biomass; most importantly, because of their relatively simple genetic make up, it offers easy transformation to genetic modified plants. A major drawback with grass is that it is really had to break down its cells walls, an essential step in producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass. That said, modified gene sequence will help researchers to produce cell walls that are easier to break down.
In the past few weeks, I looked into algae, palm oil as alternatives of producing biofuels, each of which has advantages and major drawbacks. But as the next-generation biofuel research proceeds, the vital part will be how to break down lignin and cellulose to get useful sugars. Researches on various of grass provide us possibilities to achieve major breakthrough on cellulose.
The paper is very comprehensive and authoritative as it is written by a group of top scientists working for the government. But at the same time, it is also very hard to read. If people are interested, you can go to the above link to download the original paper for free. – Jianchao Wang