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ISI Journal Citation Reports © Ranking: 2015: 1/83 (Agronomy); 9/88 (Energy & Fuels)
Online ISSN: 1757-1707
Associated Title(s): Global Change Biology
Using the Agave Genome to Improve Biofuel Production
Agave is a non-food crop that can be grown on marginal, uncultivated, and arid land, of which much is currently unused. This makes it an excellent candidate as a bioenergy crop, since it will not compete with food production and may provide employment in depressed areas.
The high sugar content of agave, which makes it possible to produce mescal and tequila, can instead be used to produce bioethanol. In addition, the discarded leaves and plant material remaining after the agave has been crushed to extract its juice can be exploited by rescuing residual sugars or utilizing the lignocellulose, which comprises the bulk of the dry mass of plants. Freeing cellulose from lignin has proved a particular problem in releasing the sugars that comprise cellulose and in achieving economically sustainable biofuels. Agave has another advantage here, because of its exceptionally low lignin content.
Simpson and colleagues identified two characteristics that, when optimized, could impact bioenergy production: sugar production and storage, and lignocellulose content. An increase in sugars would directly increase the amount of bioethanol that could be produced from the sap crushed out of Agave. The bagasse, remaining plant matter, could then by processed by digesting the lignocellulose to release further sugars for fermentation or it could be burned to provide combined heat and power (CHP).
They determined gene sequences in the Agave genome that correspond to those known to influence sugar and lignocellulose content in other plant species. Identification of the sequences is a first step towards understanding how the important biofuel characters of free sugar content and lignocellulose content are regulated and may be manipulated to produce superior lines of this emerging bioenergy crop.
Simpson J, Martínez Hernández A, Abraham Juárez MJ, Delgado Sandoval S, Sánchez Villareal A, Cortés Romero C (2011) Genomic resources and transcriptome mining in Agave tequilana. Global Change Biology Bioenergy, 3: 25-36. Read this paper.