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


John Clifton-Brown
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 Dolstra
Iain Donnison
Richard Flavell
Joerg Greef
Steve Hanley
Astley Hastings
Magnus Hertzberg
Tsai-Wen Hsu
Lin S. 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
Gerald A. Tuskan
Toshihiko Yamada
Chang Yeon Yu
Junqin Zong
Iris Lewandowski



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Northern Research Station


GCB Bioenergy


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 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 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, semihybrids 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.


Clifton-Brown, John; Harfouche, Antoine; Casler, Michael D.; Dylan Jones, Huw; Macalpine, William J.; Murphy-Bokern, Donal; Smart, Lawrence B.; Adler, Anneli; Ashman, Chris; Awty-Carroll, Danny; Bastien, Catherine; Bopper, Sebastian; Botnari, Vasile; Brancourt-Hulmel, Maryse; Chen, Zhiyong; Clark, Lindsay V.; Cosentino, Salvatore; Dalton, Sue; Davey, Chris; Dolstra, Oene; Donnison, Iain; Flavell, Richard; Greef, Joerg; Hanley, Steve; Hastings, Astley; Hertzberg, Magnus; Hsu, Tsai-Wen; Huang, Lin S.; Iurato, Antonella; Jensen, Elaine; Jin, Xiaoli; Jørgensen, Uffe; Kiesel, Andreas; Kim, Do-Soon; Liu, Jianxiu; McCalmont, Jon P.; McMahon, Bernard G.; Mos, Michal; Robson, Paul; Sacks, Erik J.; Sandu, Anatolii; Scalici, Giovanni; Schwarz, Kai; Scordia, Danilo; Shafiei, Reza; Shield, Ian; Slavov, Gancho; Stanton, Brian J.; Swaminathan, Kankshita; Taylor, Gail; Torres, Andres F.; Trindade, Luisa M.; Tschaplinski, Timothy; Tuskan, Gerald A.; Yamada, Toshihiko; Yeon Yu, Chang; Zalesny, Ronald S.; Zong, Junqin; Lewandowski, Iris. 2018. Breeding progress and preparedness for mass-scale deployment of perennial lignocellulosic biomass crops switchgrass, miscanthus, willow and poplar. GCB Bioenergy. 11(1): 118-151.


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  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.