High Starch in Plant Leaves at Harvest

Thomas Sharkey, Sean Weise

Currently, there is a great interest in using plant biomass, instead of grain, to produce ethanol. Starch can easily be used to make ethanol and would improve ethanol production from cellulose. In most plants, though, starch accumulated during the day is usually broken down each night, resulting in very little starch accumulation in the leaves. The quantity of starch present in the leaves of a plant will affect the gross yield and processing efficiency. Since currently existing high starch plants cannot degrade their starch early in their life, they do not grow as fast as plants that can degrade their starch, thus resulting in reduced yields.

The Invention

Michigan State University’s technology relates to the creation of a genetically modified crop that might be used for the production of bio-ethanol or directly as an animal feed. Specifically, this invention increases the yield of easily degraded polymers, such as starch, in plants by blocking starch degradation at a developmental point late in the life cycle of the plant. The accumulation of starch in plant leaves is controlled through transgenic expression of an RNAi construct that inhibits expression of normal starch turnover. Better and higher yielding feedstock for bio-ethanol production: Crops with high starch content would provide a higher yield of fermentable sugars for the production of bio-ethanol due to an increase in sugar content. Better animal feed: Specific maize varieties for use as silage would reduce feed cost for dairy production by providing a rapidly digestible carbohydrate source, allowing reduction of grain supplements.

Key Benefits
  • Better and higher yielding feedstock for bio-ethanol production
  • Better animal feed
  • Increasing the yield of starch in plants can result in several applications, including field corn varieties or feedstock crops for bio-ethanol production, and silage maize varieties as animal feedstuff, especially for dairy cattle.
Technology Contact

Thomas Herlache Assistant Director Michigan State University​ herlache@msu.edu

Sustainable Bioenergy Cropping Systems