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"Miscanthus is part of a tribe of grasses, the Andropogoneae, that includes sorghum, sugarcane, and corn," Sacks explains. "Because it is found so far north, this population of Miscanthus sacchariflorus is likely the most cold-hardy of that group. If we want to improve cold hardiness in this very important group of plants, this is going to be the best population to study."
Sacks and his colleagues collected miscanthus from 47 locations across eastern Russia, including at least one location where Sacks wasn't expecting to find it; in that case, he used his bare hands to pull it from the ground. Live rhizome fragments were sent back to U of I to be genetically analyzed and to USDA's National Plant Germplasm System to be maintained and distributed to scientists worldwide for use in breeding and research. Samples were also provided to the VIR genebank.
Field - Sacks - Team - Traits - Biomass
While in the field, Sacks' team also measured traits that can be used to predict biomass production: height, number of stems, and stem diameter. When plant geneticist and the report's lead author Lindsay Clark analyzed the plant material at U of I, she found several genetic markers associated with the traits measured in the field.
"Normally, breeders have to grow up plants from these collections and evaluate them in a replicated field trial," Sacks says. "That's very expensive and takes a lot of time. In the future when people go collecting, if there are heritable traits of value that can be measured quickly in the field, our results suggest it may be worthwhile to do so. It may not be as perfect as a replicated field trial in multiple sites, but it gives you a place to start."
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