Mississippi professor collaborating with others to development greener bioenergy

Published 6:45 am Thursday, February 23, 2023

A Mississippi State professor of biological sciences is part of an interdisciplinary team of scientists throughout the U.S. advancing efforts to produce alternative forms of “greener” bioenergy by modifying plant gene function.

Nancy Reichert is part of the research team that for the first time has successfully demonstrated precision gene editing in miscanthus—a crop that shows great potential as a sustainable bioenergy source. The research is now published in Biotechnology for Biofuels and Bioproducts.

“We are working toward a more ‘green’ future where plants like miscanthus could help replace existing ‘non-green’ sources, such as bio-based energy contrasted with petroleum-based energy. This research moves us a few steps further down the path to reach this and similar goals,” Reichert said.

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Funded through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation, the researchers aimed to accelerate efforts to harness the untapped potential of the highly productive but genetically complex grass as a source for biofuels, renewable bioproducts and carbon capture.

They edited the genomes of three miscanthus species using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology—a far more targeted and efficient method than those used in the past.

Unlike previous experimentation on miscanthus, which focused on introducing external genes at random places into the plant’s genomes, the team developed gene-editing procedures that allow researchers to selectively target existing genes within miscanthus to knockout or modify their function, as well as to introduce new genes into precise locations.

The targeting ability presents a new avenue for genetic improvement. Through these efforts, the team advances scientific capabilities to produce bioenergy as well as novel bioproducts like oils and specialty chemicals.

Reichert received her bachelor’s degree in bacteriology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She attended graduate school at New Mexico State University where she worked in the new Plant Genetic Engineering Lab and received a Ph.D. in molecular biology.