Fast Grass

Gene alteration may make crops used for biofuels grow more quickly

Putting down roots: miscanthus grass field.

Putting down roots:
miscanthus grass field.

Tinkering with a single gene may give perennial grasses used to make biofuels more robust roots and speed up their growth, according to researchers at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy.

But before that can happen, the root system needs time to get established.

“These biofuel crops usually can’t be harvested until the second or third year,” says Philip Benfey, lead researcher and Paul Kramer Professor of biology. “A method to improve root growth could have a major role in reducing the time to harvest for warm-season grasses.”

Benfey’s team identified a gene that regulated the production of a certain enzyme that could control complex aspects of the growth process in perennial grasses such as switchgrass and miscanthus. Benfey believes that by manipulating this gene, the grasses can be made to grow more quickly. His startup company, GrassRoots Biotechnology Inc., has acquired the patent for this discovery with that potential in mind.

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