Texas A&M researcher breeding pearl millet with Napier grass for sterile biomass hybrid

November 4, 2015 |

In Texas, the downturn in the bioenergy industry has led one Texas A&M AgriLife Researcher to reach to new heights in the forage biomass arena. Dr. Russ Jessup, an AgriLife Research perennial grass breeder in College Station, said he is introducing a new biofuel-biomass feedstock that is a hybrid “similar to seedless watermelons, seedless grapes and other sterile triploid crops.”

Jessup is utilizing two grass species: pearl millet, a grain crop, and Napier grass, which is a very high-biomass crop that can be crossed to make progeny that are sterile triploids in the field.

“This is a dual-use crop with a low seed cost, high yield potential and quality perennial biomass suitable for both forage and dedicated biofuels,” he said. “So in light of current downtrends in oil prices, this crop can stand on its own as a forage crop in the interim, until that reverses.”

As a high-quality forage crop, Jessup said, it is sterile in the field but has seeded parents, unlike sugarcane that has to be planted from stocks.

To produce this hybrid he started with the larger seeded but shorter pearl millet to give it quality, large seeds and drought tolerance. Pearl millet is native to Africa and can be more drought tolerant than even sorghum, he said.

Then he crossed it with Napier grass, a closely related cousin of pearl millet that is grown in Africa for cut-and-carry silage and high biomass fodder.

“You can cross these two species and get ample seed off of the pearl millet parent,” Jessup said.

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Category: Research

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