Less chewing the cud, more greening the fuel

Last updated: 8 Jan, 2018

Plant biomass contains considerable calorific value but most of it makes up robust cell walls, an unappetising evolutionary advantage that helped grasses to survive foragers and prosper for more than 60 million years.


The trouble is that this robustness still makes them less digestible in the rumen of cows and sheep and difficult to process in bioenergy refineries for ethanol fuel.


Cattle feeding at Rothamsted Research’s North Wyke Farm Plaform in Devon
Credit: Rothamsted Research


But now a multinational team of researchers, from the UK, Brazil and the US, has pinpointed a gene involved in the stiffening of cell walls. Suppressing this gene increased the release of sugars by up to 60%. Their findings are published in New Phytologist.


"The impact is potentially global as every country uses grass crops to feed animals and several biofuel plants around the world use this feedstock," says Rowan Mitchell, a plant biologist at Rothamsted Research and the team's co-leader.


Continue reading on the New Phyt blog.


Read the paper: De Souza, W., et al. (2018) Suppression of a single BAHD gene in Setaria viridis causes large, stable decreases in cell wall feruloylation and increases biomass digestibilityNew Phytologist. doi: 10.1111/nph.14970