Switchgrass biofuel? New gene that makes plant sterile could ease contamination concerns

Switchgrass Harvest at Meach Cove Farm e

Switchgrass has been lauded as a promising source of biofuel…. Genetically modifying switchgrass could boost crop yields and its commercial viability.

But to close in on realizing that potential requires one small tweak: a genetic sterility switch that prevents the modified grass from contaminating the genes of nearby unmodified grasses. Dazhong “Dave” Zhao, a UWM associate professor of biological sciences, hopes to build that switch.

Zhao and postdoctoral researcher Jian Huang are tackling the main obstacle keeping genetically modified switchgrass off the commercial market. It’s the possibility that lab-engineered genes could escape human control by mixing with genes of wild-growing grasses, which might interrupt natural processes in unpredictable ways.

Under current federal regulations, only genetically modified grasses that are absolutely sterile in the lab can enter field trials.

Zhao hopes to create sterile switchgrass by introducing a fusion gene into its reproductive cells, using a harmless bacterium as a delivery vehicle. The fusion gene merges the Solo Dancers, or SDS, gene – an essential player in the reproduction of many plant species – with a toxic gene called Barnase.

“By combining the SDS and Barnase genes, we have created a new gene with very specific toxicity: It kills only the tissue that makes a plant’s version of eggs and sperm,” Zhao says.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: A Switch for Switchgrass

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