Miscanthus: a fast-growing crop for biofuels and chemicals production

Understanding Miscanthus and its potential as a sustainable biofuel.

Event details.

Start date:

13 September 2016

End date:

13 September 2016


13h00 - 16h30


Earlham Institute

Registration deadline:

13 September 2016


Free of charge

About the event.

Earlham Institute, in partnership with Anglian Agri-tech Ventures, invites you to join us for an afternoon of talks focussed on understanding Miscanthus and its potential as a sustainable biofuel, taking place on Tuesday 13th September, 1pm, in the Darwin room, Earlham Institute.

Places are limited so please email stuart.catchpole@earlham.ac.uk to register your attendance.

Speakers include:

1. Dr Robert Hill, University of Lincoln, New Zealand

13:00 - 13:35: Trichoderma: Molecular Biology to Miscanthus biofuels

2. Dr Jose De Vega, Earlham Institute

14:00 - 14:45: Key molecular components associated to differential phenotypes in Miscanthus

3. Prof Keith Waldron, Biorefinery, IFR

15:30 - 16:00: Conversion of Lignocellulose to biofuels and chemicals

4. General discussions and conclusion remarks to 16:30

Miscanthus, a fast-growing crop for biofuels and chemicals production

Talk abstracts.

1) Trichoderma: Molecular Biology to Miscanthus Biofuels - Dr Robert Hill, Mr Robert Lawry and Mr Mark Walker. University of Lincoln, New Zealand

Trichoderma is a genus of ascomycete soil fungi which are often closely associated with plants. These interactions range from pathogenic to growth-promoting and disease suppressing. Numerous molecular mechanisms involved in mediating the relationship between Trichoderma spp. and plants have been discovered, ranging from alternative splicing, manipulation of host defences, lytic enzyme production, novel signalling pathways and competitive inhibition of other microbes in the soil ecosystem. These discoveries are being used to enhance existing applications of Trichoderma spp. in diverse fields such as biotechnology, forest health and then in its interaction with agricultural plants. Using modern molecular biological methods, genomic and systems biology methods, we aim to enhance the potential of Trichoderma and Miscanthus for production of biofuel ethanol. 

2) Key molecular components associated to differential phenotypes in Miscanthus – Dr Jose De Vega, Earlham Institute

Miscanthus are C4 grasses with remarkable features as bioenergy crops. Miscanthus are harvested for the structural cell-wall polysaccharides. Currently, they are mainly used for combustion but there is an increasing interest in using Miscanthus as a sustainable source of bioethanol. We have assembled a reference genome and performed a transcriptomic analysis to identify the key regulators behind distinctive carbohydrate profiles and plant architectures observed in Miscanthus hybrids from a cross between M. sinensis and M. sacchariflorus. 

We identified a complex network of differentially expressed loci involved in starch metabolism and carbohydrate biosynthesis, and specifically up-regulated in the stem of Miscanthus hybrids that showed higher concentration of several non-structural carbohydrates but lower yielding, sucrose:starch ratio, and number of tillers. Equivalent differences in expression could not be observed in other tissues or between the parents, even when they also have distinctive architectures. In addition, this -omic data allowed us to characterise the fundamental functions predominant in different tissues and genotypes, as well as the recent evolution of the Miscanthus genome. 

The molecular components that explain complex agronomic traits are difficult to define and largely unknown in crops. We noticed that intermediate phenotypes, such as metabolic profiles and yielding measurements, offer an affordable alternative. In a similar way as we did, new genomes of heterozygous and complex plants that were previously inaccessible can be assembled and explored by comparative genomics, used to asset the diversity of natural and synthetic populations, and identify the causal loci of complex agronomic traits.

3) Conversion of Lignocellulose to biofuels and chemicals - Prof Keith Waldron, Biorefinery, IFR

Global intensification of agriculture and food production has resulted in the creation of large quantities of co-products and wastes at all stages of the agri-food chain. Much of these co-products could potentially be converted to energy, fuels and chemicals. 

The Biorefinery Centre focuses on the total exploitation of plant-based waste streams in order to maximise economic benefit and reduce environmental impact. In addition to considering high value outputs, special consideration is given to the development of bio-refining approaches for the valorisation of the low-value bulk lignocellulosic residues, particularly for the production of biofuels and renewable chemicals. Much of this research involves close collaboration with the UK National Collection of Yeast Cultures and the development of rapid screening methodologies. A key aim is to develop yeasts to convert low cost sugars from biomass to platform chemicals. This requires consideration of biomass heterogeneity, processing conditions and yeast biodiversity.

Related reading.