Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

The genetic improvement of miscanthus for biomass - NF0426

Description
Carbon-rich energy crops have high potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by replacing fossil fuels, since they are carbon neutral over their life cycle. Biomass power production can offer a significant contribution to meeting UK targets of 10% of energy from renewable sources by 2010. Renewable biomass supply chains also offer major opportunities in rural areas to enhance rural employment. Miscanthus is an unusual C4 grass by growing extremely well in temperate climates, and having a higher yield potential than Short Rotation Coppice in favourable areas of the UK. Favourable characteristics for the crop`s use in sustainable agriculture are the high nitrogen use efficiency resulting in lower nitrate leaching and improved groundwater quality and the ability to protect soil against erosion. The major factor for achieving an economically sustainable biomass supply chain is a large increase in commercial yields.

At present, the crop has high genetic vulnerability resulting from only three clones of M. x giganteus being used commercially. To address both issues, a Miscanthus genetic improvement programme is needed in the UK.

Defra support of this programme is necessary as
a) energy crops play an important role in government renewables policy
b) this is a new crop in which the market is at a very early stage of development. Without this support, the potential of Miscanthus to become the prime perennial energy grass that will meet the need for a renewable energy supply chain from an annually harvested biomass crop cannot be exploited.
c) it is line with Defra`s market failure rationale for investing in crop genetic improvement research, which recognises that the market alone may fail to provide the incentives to provide the mechanisms by which Defra`s objectives can be delivered
d) it relates well to previous Defra investment in energy from Miscanthus such as the funding of collection of genetic resources and
e) it is in line with Defra`s objective of improving the sustainability of agriculture in terms of reducing the use of external inputs and adverse impacts on the environment whilst maintaining profitability.

This project will select Miscanthus accessions from national and international collections and identify promising genotypes for the breeding programme. We propose, for reasons given later, to take two complementary approaches:· The hybridisation and selection of diploid sinensis x sinensis accessions in order to
o identify diploid M.sinensis clones which are superior to the triploid `X giganteus` in N. Europe
o explore the more economic seed propagation option
o produce parent material for use in the second approach.

· The hybridisation of diploid and tetraploid germplasm to produce new sterile triploid hybrids superior to `X giganteus`
. In addition, the project will address improvement of breeding efficiency by:
· Identification of early morpho-physiological traits that can be used for prediction of productivity and persistence·
Examination of indirect measurement of chemical composition using FTIR, for quality traits.
· The production of large trait mapping populations and the identification of a realistic cost-effective roadmap to more efficient breeding through the development of marker-assisted selection. In consultation with Defra, we will identify a trial network and exploitation route in UK and Europe, taking into account expertise in large-scale production and marketing.
Objective
Taking into account Miscanthus`s breeding system and general biology, the following breeding strategies will be adopted. The rationale of the two-pronged approach (2 and 3) was outlined in the introduction and in the scientific context.

1. Assessment of genetic resources available in UK and elsewhere for yield, canopy development, flowering time, over-wintering, and combustion quality.

2. Hybridisation and selection based on general and specific combining ability of diploid sinensis x sinensis accessions using a priori knowledge and information from 1. The hypothesis is that diploid clones can be identified which are superior to the triploid `X giganteus` in N. Europe.

3. Hybridisation of diploid and tetraploid accessions to produce new sterile triploid hybrids.

4. Improvement of breeding efficiency based on early morpho-physiological prediction of productivity and persistence and the indirect measurement of chemical composition using FTIR.

5. The production of large trait mapping populations and the identification of a realistic cost-effective roadmap to more efficient breeding through the development of marker-assisted selection.

6. Identification with Defra of the exploitation route in UK and Europe, taking into account expertise in large-scale production and marketing.
Project Documents
• Final Report : The genetic improvement of Miscanthus for Biomass   (2705k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2004

To: 2009

Cost: £1,216,288
Contractor / Funded Organisations
University Wales, Aberystwyth, Plant Research International, Institute of Grassland and Environment Research (IGER)
Keywords
Agri-Industrial              
Arable Farming              
Breeding              
Crop Improvement              
Crops              
Farming              
Genetics              
Molecular Biology              
Fields of Study
Non-Food Crops