Breeding cellulosic feedstock crops with enough biomass for sustainable liquid fuel production is a major challenge. We can exploit natural variation in bioenergy-relevant traits, but many of the most promising feedstock crops, such as perennial grasses, have large genomes and limited genetic resources, making breeding for such traits difficult. However, such tools are readily available for rice, a well-studied crop plant that shares many developmental and physiological processes as well as gene content with other grasses. These shared characteristics make rice useful as a model for modifying other newly emerging bioenergy crops. Researchers at Colorado State University, in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, assessed variation in traits such as biomass, height, tiller number, plant girth, cell-wall composition, and water-use efficiency among a diverse set of 20 rice varieties at different stages of development. Significant variation was found for all traits, and this variation was determined to be heritable. Additionally, high yields exhibited by different varieties were achieved through different combinations of traits, indicating the contribution of multiple genetic loci to overall biomass productivity and suggesting that multiple targets can be utilized in traditional breeding programs to develop other energy feedstocks with enhanced yield.
Reference: Jahn, C. E., J. Mckay, R. Mauleon, J. Stephens, K. L. McNally, D. R. Bush, H. Leung, and J. E. Leach. 2011. “Genetic Variation in Biomass Traits Among 20 Diverse Rice Varieties,” Plant Physiology 155, 157–68.
Contact: Cathy Ronning, SC-23.2, (301) 903-9549
SC-33.2 Biological Systems Science Division, BER
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