Feedstock Development projects
Genetics and Pre-Commercial Breeding of Perennial Bioenergy Grasses
Northern-adapted, warm-season C4 perennial grasses are among the most promising candidates for developing sustainable dedicated bioenergy crops for North America. Genetic resources will play an essential role in increasing biomass yield of feedstock crops. However, germplasm collections in the U.S. for these species are small, and little breeding work has been done on them. This project is developing the foundational underpinnings for bioenergy grass crop improvement that University research has provided for other major crops, through germplasm collection and characterization, genetics of key traits, and Improved breeding & selection methods.
Though Miscanthus is a promising bioenergy crop, a key limitation has been that only one sterile cultivar of M. × giganteus is currently available to farmers. We have been addressing this limitation by building and evaluating a Miscanthus germplasm collection, developing new M. × giganteus cultivars from controlled crosses and identifying markers associated with traits of interest. In 2013, we established multi-location field trials of seven new sterile M. × giganteus clones. In an analysis of a previous two-location trial of ~70 Miscanthus genotypes, we observed high repeatabilities for most traits over locations and years. In a nearly completed analysis of population structure for M. sinensis populations collected in Japan, we have identified distinct populations and are increasing seed of each group in isolation. The population structure study will also facilitate association mapping of genes for nematode resistance, as screening for resistance was initiated this year. To identify markers associated with agronomic and adaptation traits, four mapping populations were phenotyped in the field and genotyped via RAD-Seq SNPs. This crossing season, we have begun to make new crosses to produce additional M. × giganteus progeny. We also anticipate making new hybrids between sugarcane and Miscanthus, which should provide valuable genes for sugarcane improvement.
Though Miscanthus is a promising bioenergy crop, a key limitation has been that only one sterile cultivar of M. x giganteus is currently available to farmers. We have been addressing this limitation by collecting new Miscanthus plants from the wild, comparing them in field trials, and developing new M. x giganteus cultivars from controlled crosses. In 2012, we initiated the first field trials of new sterile M. x giganteus clones, which represent an important milestone for the development of Miscanthus as a bioenergy crop in the U.S. Significantly, the new M. x giganteus clones were highly vigorous and later-flowering than the standard clone; late flowering may give the new clones better adaptation to southern U.S. growing environments than the current cultivar. Also in 2012, we identified a true hybrid of sugarcane and Miscanthus. Because Miscanthus is much more cold-tolerant and pest-resistant than sugarcane, the development of hybrids between sugarcane and Miscanthus holds the promise of greatly extending the range of environments where sugarcane and energy cane can be grown.