Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Prairie cordgrass: Highly underrated

When D.K. Lee and Lane Rayburn, faculty members in the crop sciences department at the University of Illinois, talk about prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata) they have difficulty containing their enthusiasm. They are among the very few people doing research on this grass as a potential energy crop.
According to Lee, switchgrass has been studied extensively as a forage crop and a dedicated energy crop. Recently this research has been extended to big bluestem, indiangrass, and other native grasses. Prairie cordgrass has received comparatively little attention because, unlike the others, it is not a good forage crop. “The cow has a preference; this grass is coarse and not good for grazing,” Lee said.

However, as interest in energy crops and in feedstock production for cellulosic biofuels increases, prairie cordgrass is receiving more attention because it grows well on marginal land. “It likes environments that are too wet for row crop production.” Lee explained.

He and his colleagues in the Energy Biosciences Institute, of which the U of I is a partner, are giving prairie cordgrass this increased attention as a biofuel source plant.

Many conservationists are also interested in the grass. “One of the characteristics of this grass is that it has a strong rhizome and root system,” explained Lee. Thus, it is good for erosion control and conservation, particularly in riparian areas because it is a species that likes water.

Another important characteristic of Spartina pectinata is salt tolerance. Lee planted prairie cordgrass in west Texas in fields that could no longer be used for crop production because they had been irrigated with salty ground water. “It actually grew pretty well; the farmer was shocked,” he said. Soil salinity is a problem in much of the marginal land throughout the world.

It also has good cold tolerance. Although it is a warm-season grass, it starts growing in mid-March like a cool-season grass. Its growing season is longer than that of corn, allowing it to accumulate high biomass.

Rayburn said that what makes it perfect as a biomass grass is that it is a native species with no invasiveness issues associated with it. “If I’m going to work with an energy crop, I want to bring something in that, environmentally and ecologically, I don’t have to worry about,” he said.

“It’s a great plant,” added Rayburn. “We know how to control it, it gives good biomass, and it grows on marginal land.”

Lee and Rayburn wanted to know where the grass grows and whether it was all the same. Lee traveled over 10,000 miles around the country collecting more than 130 natural populations. He and his group then looked at the DNA and the ploidy level, which is the number of sets of chromosomes.

They found many differences. For example, the prairie cordgrass in South Dakota was mostly octoploid (eight sets of chromosomes) while the Illinois grass tended to be tetraploid (four sets). Then, to their surprise, they found a mixed-ploidy population comprising tetraploids and (previously unknown) hexaploids (six sets of chromosomes) at a single location in Illinois.

Lee said that, for biomass production, this newly discovered hexaploid is in the top five of his collection. “A lot of people want to have access to this thing, but I’m still keeping it in my house,” he said. The Energy Biosciences Institute is hoping to patent the variety. Lee’s ‘Savoy’ cultivar has recently been patented.

Rayburn said that finding the hexaploid “was like catching a snapshot of evolution.” The area where the hexaploid was found is a piece of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land that has not been farmed for 20 years, meaning that the polyploidy event occurred quite recently.

Rayburn and Lee describe their collaboration as “a perfect combination.” Lee is focusing on developing a better cultivar with good agronomic traits. Rayburn is interested in how the hexaploid evolved. “What he does helps me in my studies of how the plant evolved; what I do helps him in his studies on improving it,” said Rayburn, “and he’s fun to work with.”

The Energy Biosciences Institute, funded by the energy company BP, is a research collaboration that includes the University of Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It is dedicated to applying the biological sciences to the challenges of producing sustainable, renewable energy for the world.

The research is described in more detail in the following articles:
Kim, S.M., A.L. Rayburn, and D.K. Lee. 2010. “Genome Size and Chromosome Analysis in Prairie Cordgrass (Spartina pectinata L.).” Crop Science 50:2277-2282.

Kim, S.M., A.L. Rayburn, A. Parrish, and D.K. Lee. 2012. “Cytogeographic Distribution and Genome Size Variation in Prairie Cordgrass (Spartina pectinata Bosc ex Link).” Plant Molecular Biology Reporter (in press, online first).

Kim, S.M., A.L. Rayburn, A. Boe, and D.K. Lee. 2012. “Neopolyploidy in Spartina pectinata Link: 1. Morphological Analysis of Tetraploid and Hexaploid Plants in a Mixed Natural Population.” Plant Systematic and Evolution (in press, online first).

Kim, S.M., A.L. Rayburn, T. Voigt, A. Parrish and D.K. Lee. 2012. “Salinity effects on germination and plant growth of prairie cordgrass and switchgrass.” Bioenergy Research 5: 225-235.

Susan Jongeneel | EurekAlert!
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: 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...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

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

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>