Led by Brazilian researchers, an international project has found sweet success in its efforts to assemble the most complete map of commercial sugarcane’s extensive genome. Their research offers genetic engineers a foundation to alter sugarcane for optimum production needs.
Glaucia Mendes Souza, lead author of the study, claimed sugarcane yield could theoretically be almost five times higher than record levels with proper genetic engineering. She noted that this research would have a direct impact on the food industry and presumably the feed and energy industries but offered no timeline for these advances.
Earlier this year, the Brazilian government approved the commercial use of GM sugarcane, a first for the industry. GM sugarcane is expected to be widely used in Brazil long-term, but since its implementation began less than a year ago, it may take a while to represent much of the nation’s crop. An unanswered question is, of course, what the market will be for sugar extracted from GM cane. In the U.S., FDA has already approved raw and refined sugar from Brazilian GM cane.
In June 2019, Gustavo Leite, CEO of Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira (Center of Sugarcane Technology), said that it would take at least three years for the GM sugarcane to reach export markets. It is likely that ethanol producers, who use around two-thirds of Brazilian sugarcane, will favor the GM crop for its higher yields, which could lead to improved margins for sugarcane ethanol.
Presently, a new task in sugarcane gene science is already under way: “Researchers are now aiming to alter carbon pathways to produce new compounds and bioproducts from sugar, lignin, fiber and other plant metabolites,” per Food Ingredients First.
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