Genomics for Bioenergy Production

Authored by: Robert J. Henry

Handbook of Bioenergy Crop Plants

Print publication date:  March  2012
Online publication date:  April  2012

Print ISBN: 9781439816844
eBook ISBN: 9781315099255
Adobe ISBN:


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Genomics has become a key tool for the analysis of plants and their performance for different end uses (Henry 2010a and b). Genomics allows for the simultaneous examination of the genes within a given organism, rather than the single-gene approach traditionally used. This paradigm has provided a tool that has greatly increased our knowledge of biological systems. Applications of genomics to food and feed uses of plants have previously dominated research efforts, but the application to energy use is now beginning. Plants have always been the basis of human food and have been burnt for heating, but they have only more recently been considered as potential sources of energy more widely. Humans have come to rely on energy from fossil plants in the form of oil or coal. The direct use of plants to satisfy energy requirements has become a key alternative as these fossil resources become limiting and their consumption threatens to cause global warming along with all of its well-known consequences. Humans domesticated plants by selecting genotypes that perform well under cultivation but may not be well equipped to survive in the wild (Purugganan and Fuller 2009). Crop plants were also mostly domesticated by selection of the genome for food use. The selection of plants for energy production will require isolating and selecting for previously ignored traits in already domesticated species or selecting previously undomesticated but promising species (Simmons et al. 2008; Henry 2010b). Domestication of plants for food has produced many domesticated plants with nonstructural carbohydrates (e.g., sugars and starches) that are sources of energy for animals and humans. These carbohydrates have been exploited in the first generation of bioenergy production from domesticated plants. Second-generation bioenergy crops are widely recognized as those that are available to be utilized for their more abundant structural (cell wall) carbohydrate with the potential to utilize much more of the carbon in these plants for energy. The ancient process of plant domestication was not always a deliberate one, but the opportunity now exists to domesticate with specific objectives and using the tools of modern science to achieve in a few generations what previously required hundreds. Genomics provides tools for a comprehensive analysis of the plant and the potential for selection of genotypes better suited to any given human use. Thus, genomics is a powerful tool for use in the accelerated domestication and improvement of plants as energy crops. Genomics may also be applied to the engineering of plant and nonplant organisms for the conversion of plant biomass to bioenergy. The application of genomics at these two levels may be complementary or potentially even synergistic in achieving the goal of energy-and cost-efficient bioenergy production.

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