Genetic and genomic approaches to biomass crop improvement at Bioenergy Genomics 2017

On Tuesday morning at the Bioenergy Genomics 2017 we will be looking at biofuel genomics. But what does that mean?

Bioenergy Genomics 2017 sees session 4 delve into the field of genetic and genomic approaches to biomass crop improvement. The collective research addresses the function of bioenergy crop genes associated with desirable characteristics, as well as the heritability of these genetically controlled traits. The importance of these approaches in their contribution towards resilient biomass crops for future climatic conditions is epitomised by the work of specialist research establishments such as, SweTree Technologies, in collaboration with academic institutes.

An abstract attempt to illustrate genomics
Image: Canva

The display of work in the session presents a diverse range of gene targets for bioenergy crop improvement. The extensive usages for woody biomass mean it can substitute oil-based products. However, wood characteristics are among the factors impeding transition towards a biomass-based economy. Studies have therefore progressed genetic and genomic knowledge of wood formation and lignin content. Wood anatomy under drought conditions has been analysed, as well as reducing the likelihood of productivity losses as a result of lignin modification. Attention has also been paid to plant signalling molecules, such as abscisic acid (ABA), known to mediate abiotic stress responses. Understanding essential processes is of upmost importance to ensure sustainable delivery of biomass in projected environments, as well as viable conversion to useful products.

Willow wood chips
Willow wood chips. Photo: Suzanne Milner

Strategies have been outlined to genetically enhance the efficiency of the most fundamental process in all plant systems, photosynthesis. Considerable yield gains could be achieved, as reports have already provided evidence for artificial enhancement of photosynthesis in the presence of elevated carbon dioxide concentrations (CO2). Furthermore, taking the whole system into consideration, efforts are being made to develop deeper rooting bioenergy varieties, with benefits for both the crop and environment. Environmental benefits have also been revealed by experiments looking into a future of growing salt resistant bioenergy crops in salt-affected areas.

The work presented demonstrates the potential for anatomical, physiological and molecular crop improvements. Continual progression in the development of genetic and genomic approaches is allowing researchers to exploit previously inaccessible capacities for modification. The prospect of incorporating a combination of these enhancements in the future is extremely exciting for bioenergy crop science and land management.