12 March 2008

Why Wait for Venter? Gene-Engineered Biomass Coming Ready or Not!

The Bio-Energy revolution is coming. As genetic engineering creates plants that need no fertiliser, plants that can thrive in drought conditions and grow well in saline soil--the arguments against biomass and advanced biofuels are sounding rather empty.
By means of genetic modification, Dixit managed to transfer the HARDY gene to rice. The HARDY rice plants also turned out to be tolerant to both drought and salt. To Dixit's surprise, these improved rice plants also performed at least as well in optimal cultivation conditions as ordinary rice plants. The general rule in plant biology is that plants with increased stress tolerance perform worse in optimal conditions than plants without tolerance. This makes the HARDY system even more promising in practical applications.

The HARDY gene encodes for a so-called transcription factor, meaning that a whole chain of genes is regulated. A plant can therefore turn an entire drought or salt tolerance mechanism on or off with a single switch. Dixit also discovered that the SHINE gene, which also encodes for a transcription factor, is capable of making rice tolerant to salt as well.___Source

Using marginal land not considered fit for food crops will open up huge areas of the planet for growing biomass. Another huge breakthrough would be to engineer plants to thrive without fertiliser.
Some plants have the capacity to grow well in nutrient poor soils without additional fertilizers. This is the result of a very efficient symbiosis between either nitrogen fixing bacteria that interact with the plant's roots, or between these roots and mycorrhizal fungi. These symbioses allow plants to strongly improve their uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus and water. Now a team of French and German scientists has discovered [*.pdf French/Spanish] the common genetic mechanism at work that allows the elements of the symbiosis to interact.

Their findings might make it possible to transfer the nitrogen fixing capacity of legumes to a wide range of crops that do not have this ability, including maize and rice. Ultimately, this could lead to a massive reduction of inorganic fertilizer consumption.___Biopact

While governments of advanced nations are content to cause energy prices to skyrocket through their foolish regulatory schemes, and seem to be "waiting for GodotVenter" for meaningful bio-Energy progress, science may be inadvertently pulling the rug out from under dubious government schemes.

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