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MISCANTHUS  genetic experiment © Aline Waquet

Miscanthus, a very promising plant...


The research which is currently underway aims at enlarging the varietal offer of miscanthus to target more precise traits for the different uses of biomass in green chemistry and to model the soil/plant system to test the environmental impacts of different cultivation practices.

By Pascale Mollier - Maryse Brancourt-Hulmel - Hubert Boizard - Fabien Ferchaud, translated by Inge Laino
Updated on 04/22/2013
Published on 02/15/2013

Broadening the varietal offer

In France, one or two clones of M. x giganteus, a natural hybrid between M. sacchariflorus and M. sinensis, are currently grown. This is not, however a safeguard against unpredictable weather or pests. Although no parasites of wild species have been identified in Europe, they are known to exist in China.

Crafting new inter-specific hybrids

To further enlarge the varietal offer, a first possibility worth considering is creating hybrids between the two parents of M. x giganteus. As a first step, it would be interesting to see the potential for nitrogen recycling in each parent, because they probably differ. This would allow scientists to carry out controlled cross-breeding so that the new hybrids produced are at least as efficient as current hybrids when it comes to this complex trait.

Targeting specific traits for green chemistry

A second option consists in exploring the variability of M. sinensis, which is very promising from an agronomic point of view. Research will focus more directly on genetic studies of the traits that are beneficial to biomass in green chemistry, such as the production of holocellulose (1), accessibility and the biodegradability of cellulose, etc. A diploid Miscanthus sinensis crop is currently being developed (Miscomveg project) for a comparative genetic study with maize and sorghum (BFF project: Biomass For the Future). Certain key traits have been identified during forecast studies (cf part 3 of this report), and others will be identified as work continues to define ideotypes (BFF project and MISC PIC project). Knowledge and data acquired from the whole of research will help define a programme of new and innovative varieties well-suited to the end-goals of green chemistry (MISC INNOV project and BFF project), and, ultimately, optimise the implementation of dedicated crops.

(1) Holocellulose: cellulose and hemicellulose

Incorporating miscanthus into production systems

A study is underway within the framework of the Futurol project to develop a soil/plant model, ‘Stics Miscanthus’, capable of simulating yield and the environmental impacts related to carbon and nitrogen cycles. This model will be used to test different growing practices (planting and destruction of crops, harvest dates, managing fertility, etc.) in different soil and climate conditions.  It will also show how miscanthus can help reduce greenhouse gases and nitrate losses at regional level, and in turn, promote the introduction of the plant into production systems on a wider scale.