Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Corn gene may improve biofuel production
November 21, 2011

Berkeley, California – Researchers in California, including those from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute, have produced a genetically-engineered plant that could improve biofuel production.

The researchers introduced a corn gene into switchgrass, a non-food plant highly touted as a potential feedstock for advanced biofuels. The gene more than doubles the amount of starch in the plant’s cell walls and makes it much easier to extract polysaccharides and convert them into fermentable sugars that can be synthesized into fuel. The gene keeps the switchgrass in its juvenile phase of development, preventing it from advancing to the adult phase, when it becomes more difficult to extract the polysaccharides.

The modified plant has lower levels of lignin, a tough woody material that locks in the polysaccharides as the plant ages, and higher levels of glucose and other sugars when compared to wild switchgrass.

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