Breeding progress and preparedness for mass‐scale deployment of perennial lignocellulosic biomass crops switchgrass, miscanthus, willow and poplar

John Clifton-Brown (Corresponding Author), Antoine Harfouche, Michael D. Casler, Huw Dylan Jones, William J. Macalpine, Donal Murphy-Bokern, Lawrence B. Smart, Anneli Adler, Chris Ashman, Danny Awty-Carroll, Catherine Bastien, Sebastian Bopper, Vasile Botnari, Maryse Brancourt-Hulmel, Zhiyong Chen, Lindsay V. Clark, Salvatore Cosentino, Sue Dalton, Chris Davey, Oene DolstraIain Donnison, Richard Flavell, Joerg Greef, Steve Hanley, Astley Hastings, Magnus Hertzberg, Tsai-Wen Hsu, Lin Huang, Antonella Iurato, Elaine Jensen, Xiaoli Jin, Uffe Jørgensen, Andreas Kiesel, Do-Soon Kim, Jianxiu Liu, Jon P. McCalmont, Bernard G. McMahon, Michal Mos, Paul Robson, Erik J. Sacks, Anatolii Sandu, Giovanni Scalici, Kai Schwarz, Danilo Scordia, Reza Shafiei, Ian Shield, Gancho Slavov, Brian J. Stanton, Kankshita Swaminathan, Gail Taylor, Andres F. Torres, Luisa M. Trindade, Timothy Tschaplinski, Jerry Tuskan, Toshihiko Yamada, Chang Yeon Yu, Ron -Fs Zalesny, Junqin Zong, Iris Lewandowski

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Genetic improvement through breeding is one of the key approaches to increasing biomass supply. This paper documents the breeding progress to date for four perennial biomass crops (PBCs) that have high output–input energy ratios: namely Panicum virgatum (switchgrass), species of the genera Miscanthus (miscanthus), Salix (willow) and Populus (poplar). For each crop, we report on the size of 5 germplasm collections, the efforts to date to phenotype and genotype, the diversity available for breeding and on the scale of breeding work as indicated by number of attempted deliberate crosses. We also report on the development of faster and more precise breeding using molecular breeding techniques. Poplar is the model tree for genetic studies and is furthest ahead in terms of biological knowledge and genetic resources. Linkage maps, transgenesis and genome editing methods are now being used in commercially focused poplar breeding. These are in development in switchgrass, miscanthus and willow generating large genetic and phenotypic data sets requiring concomitant efforts in informatics to create summaries that can be accessed and used by practical breeders. Cultivars of switchgrass and miscanthus can be seed‐based synthetic populations, semi‐hybrids or clones. Willow and poplar cultivars are commercially deployed as clones. At local and regional level, the most advanced cultivars in each crop are at technology readiness levels which could be scaled to planting rates of thousands of hectares per year in about 5 years with existing commercial developers. Investment in further development of better cultivars is subject to current market failure and the long breeding
cycles. We conclude that sustained public investment in breeding plays a key role in delivering future mass‐scale deployment of PBCs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-151
Number of pages33
JournalGlobal Change Biology. Bioenergy
Issue number1
Early online date23 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

UK: The UK‐led miscanthus research and breeding was mainly supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the BBSRC CSP strategic funding grant BB/CSP1730/1, Innovate UK/BBSRC “MUST” BB/N016149/1, CERES Inc. and Terravesta Ltd. through the GIANT‐LINK project (LK0863). Genomic selection and genomewide association study activities were supported by BBSRC grant BB/K01711X/1, the BBSRC strategic programme grant on Energy Grasses & Bio‐refining BBS/E/W/10963A01. The UK‐led willow R&D work reported here was supported by BBSRC (BBS/E/C/00005199, BBS/E/C/00005201, BB/G016216/1, BB/E006833/1, BB/G00580X/1 and BBS/E/C/000I0410), Defra (NF0424) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) (B/W6/00599/00/00). IT: The Brain Gain Program (Rientro dei cervelli) of the Italian Ministry of Education, University,
and Research supports Antoine Harfouche. US: Contributions by Gerald Tuskan to this manuscript were supported by the Center for Bioenergy Innovation, a US
Department of Energy Bioenergy Research Center supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the DOE Office of Science, under contract number DE‐AC05‐00OR22725. Willow breeding efforts at Cornell University have been supported by grants from the US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Contributions by the University of Illinois were supported primarily by the DOE Office of Science; Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER); grant nos. DE‐SC0006634, DE‐SC0012379 and DE‐SC0018420 (Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts
Innovation); and the Energy Biosciences Institute. EU: We would like to further acknowledge contributions from the EU projects “OPTIMISC” FP7‐289159 on miscanthus and “WATBIO” FP7‐311929 on poplar and miscanthus as well as “GRACE” H2020‐EU.3.2.6. Bio‐based Industries Joint Technology Initiative (BBI‐JTI) Project ID 745012 on miscanthus.


  • bioenergy
  • feedstocks
  • lignocellulose
  • M. sacchariflorus
  • M. sinensis
  • Miscanthus
  • Panicum virgatum
  • perennial biomass crop
  • Populus spp
  • Salix spp
  • M. sacchariflorus
  • Salix spp.
  • M. sinensis
  • Populus spp.


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