Scientists to develop water efficient biofuel crops

Scientists from the University of Liverpool are taking part in an international research project to apply the properties of drought-adapted desert plants to biofuel crops.

The  £8.6million ($13.9 million) project, funded by the US Department of Energy, aims to explore the photosynthetic mechanisms of drought-tolerant desert plants like agave and introduce these into poplar trees, a  recognised biofuel source.

Other partners in the project are the University of Newcastle, the University of Nevada-Reno, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee.

‘The project will develop an unprecedented level of understanding of a highly water use efficient form of photosynthesis known as crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM), which is found in agaves, cacti and succulents,’ says James Hartwell of the Institute of Integrative Biology.

‘These plants capture carbon dioxide at night when the potential for water loss is lower. With our collaborators, we will identify the optimal ‘parts-list’ for CAM to function efficiently, and colleagues in the US will use this knowledge to engineer poplar trees to grow productively and sustainably in low-rainfall regions.’

It is hoped the technology will eventually help scientists present a response to the global food security crisis by being able to develop crops better adapted to the drier and warmer world predicted by climate change models.

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