Sustainable Use of Biotechnology for Bioenergy Feedstocks

Moon, Hong S.; Abercrombie, Jason M.; Kausch, Albert P.; Stewart Jr., C. Neal
October 2010
Environmental Management;Oct2010, Vol. 46 Issue 4, p531
Academic Journal
Done correctly, cellulosic bioenergy should be both environmentally and economically beneficial. Carbon sequestration and decreased fossil fuel use are both worthy goals in developing next-generation biofuels. We believe that biotechnology will be needed to significantly improve yield and digestibility of dedicated perennial herbaceous biomass feedstocks, such as switchgrass and Miscanthus, which are native to the US and China, respectively. This Forum discusses the sustainability of herbaceous feedstocks relative to the regulation of biotechnology with regards to likely genetically engineered traits. The Forum focuses on two prominent countries wishing to develop their bioeconomies: the US and China. These two countries also share a political desire and regulatory frameworks to enable the commercialization and wide release of transgenic feedstocks with appropriate and safe new genetics. In recent years, regulators in both countries perform regular inspections of transgenic field releases and seriously consider compliance issues, even though the US framework is considered to be more mature and stringent. Transgene flow continues to be a pertinent environmental and regulatory issue with regards to transgenic plants. This concern is largely driven by consumer issues and ecological uncertainties. Regulators are concerned about large-scale releases of transgenic crops that have sexually compatible crops or wild relatives that can stably harbor transgenes via hybridization and introgression. Therefore, prior to the commercialization or extensive field testing of transgenic bioenergy feedstocks, we recommend that mechanisms that ensure biocontainment of transgenes be instituted, especially for perennial grasses. A cautionary case study will be presented in which a plant's biology and ecology conspired against regulatory constraints in a non-biomass crop perennial grass (creeping bentgrass, Agrostis stolonifera), in which biocontainment was not attained. Appropriate technologies that could be applied to perennial grass feedstocks for biocontainment are discussed.


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