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Combining biofuel and food

Better adapting small grain cereals to the production of biofuel and high-quality grain.

Brachypodium distachyon. © INRA, Y. Verhertbruggen
Updated on 01/22/2016
Published on 12/07/2015

Byproducts, such as straw, from major grain crops are promising sources of biomass that could be used to produce biofuel as an alternative to fossil fuel energy. Grain crop biomass contains polysaccharides, which are complex sugars and the target polymer for transformation into ethanol. Grain crop biomass also contains other polymers, known as lignins, that hamper access to polysaccharides but that are necessary for plant rigidity and sap transport. Research is currently underway to modify lignin in crop plant stalks to make polysaccharides easier to access.

As a part of this research, a mutation in Brachypodium distachyon – the model plant for grain crops – has been identified where lignin in plant stems is moderately altered. The mutation facilitates the conversion of straw into sugar that can be converted into ethanol. Seeds from plants with this mutation were also analysed. Although lignin in seeds is rarely studied, researchers found that plants with the mutation produced seeds whose lignin was structured in a similar way to lignin in the plant’s stems. Researchers looked for possible impacts of the mutation on seed development and composition, but did not find any evidence of negative outcomes.

The work demonstrates that it may be possible to develop grain crops whose stems are suited to biofuel production without affecting grain quality for food uses.


Partners: The research was carried out as a part of Séverine Ho-Yue-Kuang’s doctoral thesis with the Research Unit on Biopolymers, Interactions and Assemblies (BIA) at INRA Nantes and the Institut Jean-Pierre Bourgin (IJPB) at INRA Versailles, and received financial support from INRA’s Science and Process Engineering of Agricultural Products (CEPIA) and Plant Breeding and Genetics (BAP) Divisions.

Publication: Ho-Yue-Kuang, S., Alvarado, C., Antelme, S., Bouchet, B., Cézard, L., Le Bris, P., Legée, F., Maia-Grondard, A., Yoshinaga, A., Saulnier, L., Guillon, F., Sibout, R., Lapierre, C., & Chateigner-Boutin, A.-L. (2015 Advance Access). Mutation in Brachypodium caffeic acid O-methyltransferase 6 alters stem and grain lignins and improves straw saccharification without deteriorating grain quality. Journal of Experimental Botany. DOI: 10.1093/jxb/erv446