Transgenic sugarcane with improved characteristics for industrial applications

Sugarcane is an important crop in (sub) tropical agriculture across many developing countries and also in emerging economies such as Brazil. A vast global market for sugarcane derivatives keeps the industry booming. Sugar is prevalent in the modern diet and increasingly a source of biofuels and bioplastics. Its dual role as food and industrial feedstock allows its development as cash crop generating additional sources of income for (rural) farming communities. This approach can overcome seesaw effects and price volatility of sugarcane products that now negatively affect the sugarcane growers.

To serve as feedstock for second-generation bio-ethanol, it will be important to develop sugarcane varieties amenable for specific industrial applications, namely sugarcane with modified lignin. The Brazilian company Petrobras has requested assistance for the development of sugarcane varieties that are tailored to this specific industrial use. The products thus generated would enhance resource use efficiency of second-generation bio-ethanol from sugarcane.Genetic engineering can contribute to this strategy, but a reproducible effective protocol for transformation in sugarcane requires to be established. This project deals with the improvement of sugarcane genetic engineering under the lead of the Laboratory for Applied in vitro Plant Biotechnology headed by Prof. Stefaan Werbrouck (Ghent University, Belgium).

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