An article in the current issue of Global Change Biology Bioenergy finds that natural populations of Miscanthus are promising candidates as second-generation energy sources because they have genetic variation that may increase their stress tolerance.
Sustainable, large-scale bioenergy production requires domestication that develops crops capable of producing sufficiently high biomass on marginal and degraded land.
Yan and coauthors collected three species of Miscanthus from populations across China and grew these species at three separate sites with varying climates to evaluate their growth. The authors found that wild populations of Miscanthus have high levels of genetic variation and adaptation that could provide valuable resources for the development of second-generation energy crops.
According to Professor Sang of the Plant Biology Department at Michigan State University, the Director of the Key Laboratory of Plant Resources at the Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, "The domestication of food crops began approximately ten thousand years ago, partly in response to climate change following the last glacial maximum. Today another round of domestication for energy crops may be necessary for the sustainability of our society. In this study, we found that wild Miscanthus species native to China have the potential to become high-yield energy crops capable of growing on marginal land. The domestication of Miscanthus should be an equally exciting, but much shorter, journey in comparison to food crop domestication."
Researchers are encouraged by these findings because in order for bioenergy crops to not compete with food production they will have to be grown on land with poor soil quality and little irrigation. Miscanthus continues to have potential as a bioenergy crop because of its high biomass yield in regions that are colder and drier than its natural habitats.