Grass roots for better biofuel

Botanists, genetic engineers and energy researchers are collaborating to develop crops better suited for the production of biofuel.


The Norwich-based John Innes Centre (JIC) has recently entered into a partnership with the US Dept of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct the research. They will study the genome of the grass Brachypodium as part of the Joint Genome Institute’s Community Sequencing Programme. The genetic information from this project will be used as a template for analysing the much larger and more complex genomes of wheat and barley. The team hope this will improve food production and help develop sustainable production of biofuel from grass crops.


Brachypodium distachyon, commonly known as Purple False Brome, is a close relative of wheat, barley and forage grasses. Its small size, rapid growth time and small genome size make it an ideal plant model for the in-depth study of temperate grasses such as wheat and barley. The JIC scientists, led by Prof Michael Bevan and Prof John Snape, aim to generate a “map” or rough outline of the Brachypodium genome.


DOE scientists will use the map to assemble and analyse the vast amount of DNA sequence data. It can then be used to identify important genes in food and fuel crops. This work will help scientists to develop grasses into superior energy crops and to improve grain crops and forage grasses vital to food supply.


Work will start in late 2007 and the 300 mega-base genome should be completed towards the end of 2008 and the findings will be made available in the public domain.