Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), along with their colleagues at the Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute, have declared the successful completion of the first wild grass sequencing. The sequencing of genome will help facilitate researchers in finding the genetics behind hardier varieties of wheat and improved varieties of biofuel crops.
The researchers will use the grass Brachypodium distachyon as a model organism that is similar to but easier to grow and study than important agricultural crops, including wheat and barley. This vital research will enable scientists to develop many varieties of switchgrass that are more suitable for bioenergy production by identifying the genetic basis for traits such as disease resistance, drought tolerance and the composition of cells.
A major drawback with using switchgrass or any perennial grass as a biofuel crop is the fact that it is difficult to break down its cell walls, an essential step in producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass. Brachypodium may play a vital role in searching ways to produce plant cell walls that are easy to break down. The fact that it is easier to grow than many grasses, takes up less laboratory space and offers easy transformation, helps researchers insert foreign DNA into it to study gene function and targeted approaches for crop improvement in the transformed plants.