Ceres, a plant genetics company in California, is at work on turning switch grass, a Prairie States native, into an energy crop.
Richard W. Hamilton, the Ceres chief executive, was quoted as saying, “You could turn Oklahoma into an OPEC member by converting all its farmland to switch grass.”
Developing energy crops could mean new applications of genetic engineering, which for years has been aimed at making plants resistant to insects and herbicides, but would now include altering their fundamental structure. One goal, for example, is to reduce the amount of lignin, a substance that gives plants the stiffness to stand upright but interferes with turning a plant’s cellulose into ethanol.
Such prospects are starting to alarm some environmentalists, who worry that altered plants will cross-pollinate in the wild, resulting in forests that practically droop for want of lignin. And some oppose the notion of altering corn to feed the nation’s addiction to automobiles. From 08.Sep.06 The New York Times