Breeding and biotechnology perspectives in miscanthus
Uffe Jørgensen, Aarhus Universitet, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences (DJF), Department of
Agroecology and Environment, Research Centre Foulum, P.O. Box 50, DK
The perennial C4
grass miscanthus, which originates from Eastern Asia, became of
major interest as a potential biomass crop in Europe during the 1990s due to its high
ivity even in cool Northern European conditions (Beale & Long, 1995; Jones &
European research has resulted in a well
characterised gene pool, basic knowledge
achieved on QTLs to assist in Marker Aided Selection programmes, a preliminary
nsformation protocol, and candidate genes. The next step of developing improved
miscanthus crops adapted to a range of pedoclimatic conditions, and with improved
yields, convertibility, etc. should be ready to take.
Species from the genus
ongst the most cold
species due to the
protection of photosystem II by a many
fold increase of the leaf zeaxanthin content at
temperatures below 14
C (Farage et al, 2006).
Like other perennial grasses miscanthus has a
low environmental impact.
Nitrate leaching is, for example, as low as from willow and almost
comparable to forests and natural areas even when optimally fertilised (Jø
very large initial miscanthus projects were conducted they were almost restricted to
genotype, namely the sterile, triploid, interspecific hybrid
M. x giganteus
, and ran into
significant problems with low first winter survival and prohibitively high costs of vegetative
establishment (Jørgensen & Schwarz, 2000).
projects on scre
ening of the genetic base (Clifton
Brown et al., 2001; Jørgensen et
al., 2003a; Lewandowski et al., 2003) and on developing breeding methods including
molecular markers, chromosome doubling (
Atienza et al., 2003a
d; Petersen et al., 2002;
) and genetic
transformation (not published) were, therefore, conducted.
types have shown a wide variation in Radiation Use Efficiencies (Jørgensen et al., 2003b),
which indicates a breeding potential for this crop similar to that achieved in willow.
itionally, the co
tent of minerals such as chloride and potassium in miscanthus straw,
which is important for determining combustion quality, may vary 10
Problems during the 1990s with establishing Miscanthus have
more or less been overcome due
to an understanding of the causes (climate x genetics) and to the development of new planting
methods that have also cut establishment costs by approx.
Lewandowski, 2000; Jø
gensen & Schwarz, 2000). The D
anish company Nordic Biomass
) now carries out commercial establishments of miscanthus. However,
improving methods of establishment and reducing costs are still important development goals,
and e.g. establishment from seed may be an option worth pursuing.
The latest EU framework programmes have not included research on miscanthus, whereas
research in the US has increased due to i.e. reports on yields way beyond those of switchgrass
al., 2004; 2008).
Much attention has been given to the utilisation of miscanthus for
ethanol, which may be possible but will be hampered by the significant 20
30% lignin content
when harvesting mature straw (Visser & Pignatelli, 2001). To improve biologic
al degradation of
miscanthus fibres before ethanol conversion several biotechnological approaches have been
proposed. One method now exploited in wheat, which may be replicated in miscanthus, is to
introduce a xylanase gene from heat
tolerant bacteria into
the genetic material of the plant.
Xylanase breaks down the linkages between arabinoxylan and lignin in the plant fibres, but is
due to its origin from heat tolerant bacteria not active until temperatures of approx. 80
imposed during the production of
bioethanol (Mathrani et al., 1992).
The research on miscanthus in Europe has amassed a large gene pool including several
species, hundreds of genotypes within species, and well characterised populations of offspring
The first commercial new b
reeds are now available (
Atienza, S.G., Satovic, Z., Petersen, K.K., Dolstra, O. & Martín, A., 2003a. Identification of
QTLs associated with yield and its components in Miscant
hus sinensis Anderss. Euphytica
Atienza, S.G., Satovic, Z., Petersen, K.K., Dolstra, O. & Martín, A., 2003b. Identification of
QTLs influencing agronomic traits in Miscanthus sinensis Anderss. II. Chlorine and
Theor. Appl. Genet. 107, 857
Atienza, S.G., Satovic, Z., Petersen, K.K., Dolstra, O. & Martín, A., 2003c. Identification of
QTLs influencing agr
nomic traits in Miscanthus sinensis Anderss. I. Total height, flag
leaf height and
Theor. Appl. Genet. 107, 123
Atienza, S.G., Satovic, Z., Petersen, K.K., Dolstra, O. & Martín, A., 2003d. Influencing
bustion quality in Miscanthus sinensis Anderss.: Identification of QTLs for calcium,
and sulphur content. Plant Breeding 122, 141
Beale CV & Long SP. 1997. Seasonal dynamics of nutrient accumulation and partitioning in the
Miscanthus x giganteus
Brown, J.C., Lewandowski, I., 2000. Overwintering problems of newly established
Miscanthus plantations can be overcome by identifying genotypes with improved rhizome
cold tolerance. New Phytologist 148, 287
Brown, J.C., Lewan
dowski, I., Andersson, B., Basch, G., Christian, D.G., Kjel
Jorgensen, U., Mortensen, J.V., Riche, A.B., Schwarz, K.
U., Tayebi, K. & Teixeira, F.,
2001. Performance of 15 Miscanthus Genotypes at Five Sites in Europe. Agronomy
Journal 93, 1013
Farage, P.K., Blowers, D., Long, S.P. & Baker, N.R. Low growth temperatures modify the
ficiency of light use by photosystem II for CO
assimilation in leaves of two chilling
Miscanthus x giganteus
. Plant, C
environment 29, 720
Heaton E., Voigt T. & Long S.P., 2004. A quantitative review comparing the yields of two
4 perennial biomass crops in relation to nitrogen, temperature and water.
Biomass & Bioenergy
Heaton, E.A., D
ohleman, F.G., Long, S. P, 2008.
Meeting US biofuel goals with less land: the
potential of Miscanthus. Global Change
Biology, 14, 2000
Jones, M.B. & Walsh, M. (eds.), 2001. Miscanthus for energy and fibre. James & James,
London, 192 pp.
., 1997. Genotypic variation in dry matter accumulation and content of N, K, and
Cl in Miscanthus in Denmark. Biomass and Bioenergy 12,(3),155
Jørgensen U., 2005. How to
reduce nitrate leaching by production of perennial energy crops?
In: Zhu Z, Mi
nami K and Xing G (eds.):
3rd International Nitrogen Conference.
Contributed Papers. Science Press, NJ, USA. p.
Jørgensen, U., Mortensen, J., Kjeldsen, J.B. & Schwarz, K.U., 2003a.
ment and yield quality of fifteen miscanthus
genotypes over three years in
Denmark. Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica, Section B
Plant Soil Science 53, 190
Jørgensen, U., Mortensen, J. & Ohlsson, C., 2003b. Light interception and dry matter
sion efficiency of misca
notypes estimated from spectral reflectance
New Phytologist 157, 263
Jørgensen, U. & Schwarz, K.
Why do basic research? A lesson from comme
exploitation of Miscanthus. New Phytologist 148, 190
wski, I., Clifton
Brown, J.C., Andersson, B., Basch, G., Christian, D.G., Jø
Jones, M.B., Riche, A.B., Schwarz, K.U., Tayebi, K. & Teixeira, F., 2003. Environment and
harvest time affects the combustion qualities of Miscanthus genotypes. Agrono
Mathrani, I. M. and B. K. Ahring, 1992. Thermophilic and Alkalophilic Xylanases from Several
Isolates. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 38 (1): 23
Petersen, K.K., Hagberg, P. & Kristiansen, K., 2002.
chromosome doubling of
. Plant Breeding. 121:445
Petersen, K.K., Hagberg, P. & Kristiansen, K., 2003. Colchicine and oryzalin mediated
mosome doubling in different genotypes of Miscanthus sinensis. Plant Cell, Tiss. Org.
t. 73, 137
Visser, P. & Pignatelli, V., 2001. Utilisation of Miscanthus. In: Jones, M.B. & Walsh, M. (eds.),
2001. Miscanthus for energy and fibre. James & James, London, 192 pp.