URBANA, Ill., March 22 (UPI) — University of Illinois scientists say they’ve found widespread plant-parasitic nematodes in the first nematode survey of two plants used for biofuels.
The researchers at the university’s Energy Biosciences Institute said they discovered the nematodes in the top two energy-yielding cellulosic-ethanol feedstock plants — Miscanthus and switchgrass.
“Nematodes are a part of our soil systems,” postdoctoral researcher Tesfamariam Mekete said. “However, when it comes to potential crops for biofuel production, we simply don’t know which nematodes are present in these crops and at what levels.”
The 2008-09 nematode survey included samples from 37 Miscanthus and 48 switchgrass plots in Illinois, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, South Dakota and Tennessee.
The scientists said all sample sites had at least two nematode species that reduce biomass in most monocotyledon hosts. The damaging population thresholds for the nematodes to Miscanthus and switchgrass are still unknown, but the scientists said the population densities they encountered might present a potential risk to biofuels production when compared with threshold densities reported on other monocotyledon hosts.
“The high levels of nematodes found in our survey and the damage symptoms observed in infected roots suggest parasitism may contribute to the decline of biomass production … and predispose plants to attack by other soil-borne pathogens,” Mekete said.
Portions of the research that included Kimberly Reynolds, Horacio Lopez-Nicora and Professors Michael Gray and Terry Niblack have been published in the journal GCB Bioenergy.
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