Date of this Version
Plant Science 217– 218 (2014) 140– 151
Perennial, temperate, C4 grasses, such as switchgrass and miscanthus have been tabbed as sources of herbaceous biomass for the production of green fuels and chemicals based on a number of positive agronomic traits. Although there is important literature on the management of these species for biomass production on marginal lands, numerous aspects of their biology are as yet unexplored at the molecular level. Perenniality, a key agronomic trait, is a function of plant dormancy and winter survival of the belowground parts of the plants. These include the crowns, rhizomes and meristems that will produce tillers. Maintaining meristem viability is critical for the continued survival of the plants. Plant tillers emerge from the dormant crown and rhizome meristems at the start of the growing period in the spring, progress through a phase of vegetative growth, followed by flowering and eventually undergo senescence. There is nutrient mobilization from the aerial portions of the plant to the crowns and rhizomes during tiller senescence. Signals arising from the shoots and from the environment can be expected to be integrated as the plants enter into dormancy. Plant senescence and dormancy have been well studied in several dicot species and offer a potential framework to understand these processes in temperate C4 perennial grasses. The availability of latitudinally adapted populations for switchgrass presents an opportunity to dissect molecular mechanisms that can impact senescence, dormancy and winter survival. Given the large increase in genomic and other resources for switchgrass, it is anticipated that projected molecular studies with switchgrass will have a broader impact on related species.