A University of Rhode Island plant geneticist has launched “Project Golden Switchgrass” to develop “the variety of enhanced switchgrass that everyone needs” as an alternative crop to produce ethanol.
According to a URI release, Albert Kausch is a world leader in developing transgenic grasses, having spent 20 years genetically modifying turf grasses, rice and corn. He is also an expert on “gene confinement” who is working to create a switchgrass that does not flower or reproduce, thereby ensuring that the genetically modified organisms do not escape into the environment and affect wild switchgrass.
Kausch is now genetically engineering switchgrass that is both sterile and resistant to herbicides, and he has a long list of other traits he hopes to improve as well, including drought tolerance, salt tolerance and cold tolerance. He expects to have test plots of the genetically modified plants on the URI campus within two years, and he hopes the first varieties will be in commercial production by 2011.