Impact of drought stress on growth and quality of miscanthus for biofuel production

Tim van der Weijde, Laurie Huxley, Sarah Hawkins, Eben Haeser Sembiring, Kerrie Farrar, Oene Dolstra, Richards G. F. Visser, Luisa M. Trindade

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Miscanthus has a high potential as a biomass feedstock for biofuel production. Drought tolerance is an important breeding goal in miscanthus as water deficit is a common abiotic stress and crop irrigation is in most cases uneconomical. Drought may not only severely reduce biomass yields, but also affect biomass quality for biofuel production as cell wall remodeling is a common plant response to abiotic stresses. The quality and plant weight of 50 diverse miscanthus genotypes were evaluated under control and drought conditions (28 days no water) in a greenhouse experiment. Overall, drought treatment decreased plant weight by 45%. Drought tolerance – as defined by maintenance of plant weight - varied extensively among the tested miscanthus genotypes and ranged from 30 to 110%. Biomass composition was drastically altered due to drought stress, with large reductions in cell wall and cellulose content and a substantial increase in hemicellulosic polysaccharides. Stress had only a small effect on lignin content. Cell wall structural rigidity was also affected by drought conditions; substantially higher cellulose conversion rates were observed upon enzymatic saccharification of drought-treated samples with respect to controls. Both cell wall composition and the extent of cell wall plasticity under drought varied extensively among all genotypes, but only weak correlations were found with the level of drought tolerance, suggesting their independent genetic control. High drought tolerance and biomass quality can thus potentially be advanced simultaneously. The extensive genotypic variation found for most traits in the evaluated miscanthus germplasm provides ample scope for breeding of drought-tolerant varieties that are able to produce substantial yields of high quality biomass under water deficit conditions. The higher degradability of drought-treated samples makes miscanthus an interesting crop for the production of second generation biofuels in marginal soils.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)770-782
Number of pages13
JournalGCB Bioenergy
Issue number4
Early online date22 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 08 Mar 2017


  • Miscanthus
  • drought tolerance
  • cell wall composition
  • cellulose
  • hemicellulose
  • lignin
  • saccharification efficiency


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