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Genomic Science Program

Systems Biology for Energy and the Environment

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Genomic Science Program

2014 Awardee

Advancing Field Pennycress as a New Oilseed Biodiesel Feedstock That Does Not Require New Land Commitments

INVESTIGATORS: Michael Marks (PI), Donald Wyse, Jim Anderson, John Sedbrook, Winthrop Pippen

INSTITUTIONS: University of Minnesota, Illinois State University, Western Illinois University

PROJECT SUMMARY: The goal of this project is to genetically improve the agronomic traits of Field Pennycress (Thlaspi arvense L.; pennycress) for its use as a new winter annual oilseed/meal/cover crop in the Upper Midwest. Pennycress can be double-cropped on the same land during the time between the traditional corn harvest and subsequent planting of soybeans the following spring. Pennycress has only recently been isolated from its natural environments throughout the Midwest. Field trials with current isolates have demonstrated that pennycress can be seeded in upper Midwest cornfields in the late summer and fall, at which time the plants begin to grow then overwinter, producing mature seed in the spring that can be harvested without disrupting soybean planting or yields. 2,200 kg/hectare seeds can be produced by wild pennycress varieties, which at 33% by weight oils content, yields 840 liters/hectare oils for biofuels and 1,470 kg/hectare press-cake to be used as a high-protein/high-energy animal feed meal. It has been estimated that pennycress can add approximately $100.00 per acre to a farmer's income.

While pennycress holds much agronomic promise, improved domesticated varieties remain to be developed. Wild pennycress varieties are hampered by inconsistent germination and stand establishment, un-optimized maturity for a given growth zone, suboptimal oil quality for biodiesel production, high seed glucosinolate content, and significant harvest loss due to pod shatter.  Domestication of many weeds that are now crops often involved the unintended selection of naturally occurring mutants with improved agronomic characteristics. We will use modern mutation-based breeding strategies to identify lines of pennycress that harbor superior agronomic traits, and incorporate these lines into our ongoing traditional breeding programs. 

This research will aid in the generation of elite pennycress varieties having consistent stand establishment, higher yields, and other superior traits, allowing for widespread adoption of pennycress as a winter oilseed/meal/cover crop integrated within corn-soybean rotations throughout the Midwest. Elite pennycress varieties will positively impact the profitability of production agriculture and enhance livestock sector returns. The adoption of pennycress will provide additional ecological benefits such as decreased soil erosion and nutrient runoff, reduced herbicide use for weed control, and reduced carbon emissions by replacing fossil fuels with biofuels. Finally, pennycress can increase energy security by diversifying the nation's energy portfolio and contribute to the economic health of rural communities.

Name: Marks, Michael
Phone: 612-625-6737


Genomics-Enabled Plant Biology for Determination of Gene Function Summary of Projects Awarded

Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy [01/19]

Lignocellulosic Biomass for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts: Workshop Report [2/15]

Sustainable Bioenergy [05/14]

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