Corn gene can increase biofuel yield

Nov. 18, 2011 at 6:16 PM

BERKELEY, Calif., Nov. 18 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say introducing a gene from corn into switchgrass can boost its potential as a feedstock for biofuels.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory say the introduction of the corn gene more than doubles the amount of starch in the switchgrass cell walls and makes it much easier to extract polysaccharides and convert them into fermentable sugars for biofuels.

Biofuels made from cellulosic biomass are the most promising alternative to petroleum-based liquid fuels for a renewable, clean, domestic source of transportation energy, a Berkeley lab release said Friday.

The corn gene holds the switchgrass in the juvenile phase of development and prevents it from advancing to the adult phase, making it more digestible to fermentation microbes, researchers said.

Switchgrass has advantages as a biofuel feedstock, they said, because it can flourish on marginal cropland, does not compete with food crops, and requires little fertilization.

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