Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Giant grass offers clues to growing corn in cooler climes

A giant perennial grass used as a biofuels source has a much longer growing season than corn, and researchers think they’ve found the secret of its success. Their findings offer a promising avenue for developing cold-tolerant corn, an advance that would significantly boost per-acre yields.

The new study, from researchers at University of Illinois, appears this month in Plant Physiology Preview.

Miscanthus x giganteus is one of the most productive grasses known. It is able to capture the sun’s energy even as cool temperatures shut down photosynthesis in other plants. In Illinois, green Miscanthus leaves emerge up to six weeks before corn can be planted. Miscanthus thrives into October, while corn leaves wither in late August.

Corn and Miscanthus are C4 plants, which are more efficient than C3 plants in converting sunlight into leaves and stalks. (C3 and C4 simply refer to the number of carbon atoms in a molecule critical to photosynthesis.)

“The C4 process differs from C3 in having just four extra steps in its metabolism,” said Stephen Long, a professor of crop sciences and principal investigator on the study. “There are four extra proteins in this process, so we assumed that these proteins are related to low temperature tolerance.”

When they compared the levels of these proteins in plants grown in warm and cold conditions, the researchers noticed that one of the proteins, pyruvate phosphate dikinase (PPDK), was present at much higher levels in the Miscanthus leaves grown at cool temperatures than in the leaves of either corn or Miscanthus grown in warmer conditions.

Although photosynthesis declined in both plants when they were first subjected to cool temperatures, after two days, photosynthesis rebounded in the Miscanthus.

The increase corresponded to the upsurge in PPDK in its leaves.

“After seven days PPDK was 10 times the level it was in the warm conditions,” Long said.

In C4 plants, PPDK catalyzes a chemical reaction in the leaf critical to the cascade of reactions that convert carbon from carbon dioxide into starches that form the plant’s tissues.

Previous studies had shown that PPDK is generally not very stable in cold conditions. The protein is made up of four subunits, which tend to come apart at low temperatures, Long said.

To test how cold temperatures affect the protein when it is expressed in cells at high concentrations, post-doctoral fellow Dafu Wang cloned the PPDK gene into E. coli bacteria to produce large quantities of the protein.

“What he showed in the test tube was that if you concentrate the protein, then it becomes more resistant to cold,” Long said. “At higher concentration the protein creates its own microenvironment where in the cold it doesn’t come apart. This appears to be the secret of success for Miscanthus at low temperature: Expressing more of the protein allows it to photosynthesize at low temperature where corn can’t.”

The next step for the researchers is to develop a corn plant in which this gene is expressed at high levels to determine if that will make the corn more tolerant of low temperatures, Long said. Cold weather after emergence of corn in the spring or in late summer during grain-filling can limit photosynthesis, he said.

“This change should make corn more resistant to these cold weather events.”

The National Science Foundation supported this research. The research team is also affiliated with the Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois and the USDA.

Editor’s note:
To reach Stephen Long, e-mail:
To reach co-author Stephen Moose, call: 217-244-6308;

Diana Yates | University of Illinois
Further information:

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Forest Management Yields Higher Productivity through Biodiversity
14.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Farming with forests
23.09.2016 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES)

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>