Biotechnology for sugarcane

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A study conducted by scientists linked to the FAPESP Bioenergy Research Program (BIOEN) confirmed for the first time in commercial sugarcane crops that the genes associated with sucrose levels present alterations according to the plant’s biomass potential.

Published in the Plant Biotechnology Journal, the study had an important impact on the international scientific community and was considered a highly accessed article for the period. The publication was released in February and in April and the editors had commemorated 1,600 downloads.

The fact that the study reunites physiology, functional genomics and production is what explains the high level of interest the study garnered, according to the lead author, Glaucia Mendes de Souza, professor at Chemistry Institute (IQ-USP) of the University of São Paulo (USP) and member of Bioen-Fapesp coordination team.

“For the first time an article unites knowledge about physiology and genomics to technical data on sugarcane growing for production of bioenergy. Several biotechnology companies are initiating programs to improve the plant and there is great industry interest in bringing biotechnology to sugarcane,” says Souza.

The article’s other authors are Alessandro Waclawovsk, Paloma Sato, Carolina Lembke – all from IQ-USP’s Biochemistry Department – and Paul Moore from the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center.

According to Souza, the study deals with “cane-energy,” which does not necessarily need to have high sugar content, but rather a significant volume of biomass – which increases productivity.

According to Souza, in addition to review of the topic, the article also adds new data obtained in the project, which is part of Bioen, and is conducted in cooperation with the Sugarcane Genetic Improvement Program (PMGCA) of the Interuniversity Network for Development of the Sugar-Ethanol Sector (Ridesa).

Ridesa is a collaborator in the Thematic Project Sugarcane Regulatory Networks, begun in 2008 under Souza’s coordination and with FAPESP financing. “All this work is based on earlier studies on sugarcane for bioenergy production, which also focused on evaluating the yield potential and regulations of the plant’s sucrose levels,” he said.

These first studies on the theme began with collaboration between the Sugarcane Technology Center (CTC) and the research from the Transcriptome of Sugarcane, financed by Fapesp in the Support Program for Partnership in Technological Innovation (PITE).

Potential Yield

“Today we have plantations that yield 80 tons per hectare on average, but it is estimated that the maximum theoretical yield reaches 380 tons per hectare. There’s much talk about improvement, but we need to quantify the potential of this crop. Our question was: how much can we really improve sugarcane?” explains Souza.

The previous study, however, examined the genes associated with the sugarcane sucrose levels, but did not include data on commercial crops, limiting data on progeny clones with genetic variance.

“The new study considers a calculation for potential yield, but also offers confirmation that the genes associated with the level of sucrose were altered in commercial crops. The study presents analysis of the genes associated with productivity and present physiological data on crops to show that the high yield plant accumulates sucrose earlier in the year.

The article Sugarcane for bioenergy production: an assessment of yield and regulation of sucrose content (DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7652.2009.00491.x), by Glaucia Mendes de Souza et. tal, can be read in the Plant Biotechnology Journal at

Agencia Fapesp