Overcoming the natural resistance of plant cell walls to deconstruction, known as recalcitrance, is a major bottleneck to cost-effective biofuel production. In response, scientists modified lignin. Lignin is one of the polymers responsible for recalcitrance and crucial for structural support within plant tissues. Modifying lignin improved the conversion of plant biomass to fuel. Yet a question remained. Will specifically modified bioenergy crops negatively impact the local soil? In field studies, researchers confirmed that growing genetically manipulated switchgrass has no negative effects on soils over the short terms studied (2 to 5 years).
Cultivating genetically modified bioenergy crops over large areas could greatly improve biofuel production.
The team evaluated physical, chemical, and biological parameters of soil health over several years during field trials of engineered switchgrass. The study found no significant effects.
Scientists at the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) genetically modified switchgrass, a promising bioenergy crop, to produce less lignin resulting in an improved ethanol conversion process.
[The study] showed no detectable effect on soil chemistry.... The soil microbiome, important to the fate of nutrients and carbon, exhibited seasonal differences between the altered and control crops, but overall there was no significant difference.
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