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Expect biofuel from grass soon!
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April 30, 2008 15:53 IST

Forget the controversy over fuel from corn, sugarcane and wheat, here comes biofuel from grass to save the world from food crisis.

In an effort to produce biofuel from a variety of elephant grass, Monsanto Co of Creve Coeur and Mendel Biotechnology Inc are joining hands.

According to the two companies, Monsanto will lend its crop-testing, breeding and seed-production expertise to the Bioenergy Seeds & Feedstocks unit of Mendel, based in Hayward, California.

Mendel will apply this knowledge to a type of elephant grass from China, which is not grown in the US, in hopes of developing a plentiful and easily grown source of fuel for the world's growing number of trucks and cars.

Scientists in many companies and research institutions are tackling the challenges of unlocking energy from cellulose -- leaves, stems, stalks or other non-edible parts of plants.

Success could alleviate the demand for corn-based ethanol that is putting pressure on world stocks of food and animal feed.

Together, the companies have several competitive advantages: Monsanto is a global leader in breeding, genetically modifying and commercializing corn, soybean, cotton and other seeds.

Mendel owns potentially useful lines of Miscanthus sinensis seed -- a type of high-yielding wild perennial grass -- and is partnering with Chinese university researchers to work with others. And last year, petroleum giant BP said it is funding Mendel's research programme through 2012.

BP exchanged its investment for a stake in Mendel. Monsanto, too, is a shareholder after years of collaborating with Mendel on the development of biotechnology traits for crops including corn, soybeans, cotton and canola.

If Mendel succeeds in commercializing Miscanthus sinensis seed for biofuel production, Monsanto also will benefit.

The partners said they will begin with a conventional breeding programme to domesticate and improve Miscanthus sinensis for use as a crop.

Monsanto is at the cutting edge of developing corn with traits that improve the ethanol production process. It also is working with sugar cane, the core crop for biofuel production in countries, including Brazil.

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