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Hacked grasses hoard sugar

18 May, 2010

New technology developed by Australian scientists has supercharged photosynthesis - the natural process of plants converting sunlight and carbon dioxide into biomass and usable energy increasing its potential for bioengery generation.

The announcement coincides with BIO2010 in Chicago, USA where the Governor of Victoria, Professor David de Kretser AC, is leading a Victorian consortium of investors and biotechnology companies.

Executive Director of BioSciences Research at the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) in Victoria, Australia, Professor German Spangenberg said photosynthetic cells for fructan biosynthesis in popular forage grasses had been reprogrammed, leading to some remarkable results.

"By applying this technology to temperate grasses such as perennial ryegrass and tall fescue in glasshouse and field trials, we have shown significantly higher dry matter yields. Recent trials have recorded a doubling of plant biomass double compared to existing varieties," Professor Spengenberg said.

"Just as importantly we have been able to enhance energy content in the biotech grasses when compared to control plants. The new technology reprograms the photosynthetic cells of grasses to produce and store more sugars known as fructans.

"These two elements combined means we have developed plants that produce more biomass with a higher sugar content, making them far better suited for use as a biofeedstocks or biofuels."

Professor Spangenberg said bioenergy was becoming an important alternative greener energy source and this new technology has shown some exciting potential to improve a plants natural ability to convert and store energy.

"With global issues such as future world food supplies for our growing world population and developing greener energies to curb greenhouse gas emissions, there is no doubt biotechnology developed by Government scientists in Australia will play a valuable role in our future," he said.

Professor Spangenberg said the technology had opened opportunities to enhance harvestable carbon yields and bioconversion efficiency of lignocellulosic biomass for applications in new dedicated bioenergy perennial grasses and other dedicated bioenergy crops, as well as explore its use in warm season grasses which have higher water use efficiency and are better adapted for growth in marginal agricultural land and warmer target environments under scenarios of climate change.

"The technology will enable applications in the development of new specialised bioenergy crops that do not compete with food and feed production for a sustainable bioenergy sector."

Professor German Spangenberg said new purpose-built world-class plant phenomics facilities being established at DPI would allow for accurate, whole of life cycle, quantitative phenotypic analysis of biotech plants complementing the research and science capabilities that will be housed in the AgriBio agricultural biotechnology research centre, due for completion by end 2011.

Source: Victoria Department of Primary Industries

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