Researchers optimize switchgrass for biofuel production
USDA researchers measuring Panicum virgatum, or switchgrass.
They can't do it in people, but scientists think they can keep switchgrass "forever young" by inserting a new gene, thus making it more useful in creating biofuel.
Geneticists from the University of California, Berkeley, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture did the work at the USDA's Plant Gene Expression Center in Albany, just off Buchanan Street at I-80 near Target and down the street from Cal's recently occupied Gill Tract research fields.
Sarah Hake, who runs the lab, and UC Berkeley's George Chuck inserted a new maize gene, called "Corngrass1" or Cg1, into Panicum virgatum, or switchgrass, thus keeping it in a "juvenile" state without flowers or seeds. The changes also keep the leaves softer than in the unmodified grass, and make the sugars inside easier to get out and process into cellulosic ethanol.
Starch, from which the sugars are extracted, is more tightly bound up in the cells of adult switchgrass. The transgenic variety not only produced up to 250 percent more starch, but it also retained juvenile cell walls that were easier to break down.
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