Ceres, UK University complete genetic map of miscanthus

By Anna Austin | March 20, 2012

As a result of collaboration between California-based Ceres Inc. and Aberystwyth University in Wales, the first comprehensive genetic map of miscanthus has been published.

The groups believe it is a significant breakthrough toward the advancement of bioenergy, including advanced biofuels, bioproducts or biopower.

Ceres and Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences have been working on the project for several years. It involved mapping all 19 chromosomes of miscanthus, as well as generation and analysis of more than 400 million DNA sequences to create a blueprint of the genetic alphabet of the plant.

The researchers found 20,000 genetic differences, or markers, which allow geneticists to differentiate individual plants based on small variations in their DNA. A portion of these markers were used to create the genetic map and are valuable for crop improvement purposes, according to IBERS.

While previous projects have attempted to create such maps, IBERS said only about 600 markers were discovered, and that previous maps didn’t fully characterize the structure of all miscanthus chromosomes, which is necessary to establish a high-tech breeding program.

Ceres has developed seed-propagated miscanthus breeds, whereas traditional means of miscanthus reproduction involves the manual planting of plugs, roots or rhizomes. The company believes the seeded miscanthus will require significantly less time, effort and money to be bred for different environments and established by growers, and is currently evaluating its seeded varieties in multiple locations.

Head of IBERS bioenergy team Lain Donnison said that in addition to using the map to develop new products, the project has provided greater insight into how the miscanthus genome compares to other well-understood crop plants, as most miscanthus research has been focused on field trials and very little was known about its genetics. 

The paper was published in the online journal PLoS One, and can be accessed here.