Non-structural carbohydrate partitioning in grass stems: a target to increase yield stability, stress tolerance, and biofuel production

Slewinski, Thomas L.
October 2012
Journal of Experimental Botany;Oct2012, Vol. 63 Issue 13, p4647
Academic Journal
A dramatic change in agricultural crops is needed in order to keep pace with the demands of an increasing human population, exponential need for renewable fuels, and uncertain climatic changes. Grasses make up the vast majority of agricultural commodities. How these grasses capture, transport, and store carbohydrates underpins all aspects of crop productivity. Sink–source dynamics within the plant direct how much, where, and when carbohydrates are allocated, as well as determine the harvestable tissue. Carbohydrate partitioning can limit the yield capacity of these plants, thus offering a potential target for crop improvement. Grasses have the ability to buffer this sink–source interaction by transiently storing carbohydrates in stem tissue when production from the source is greater than whole-plant demand. These reserves improve yield stability in grain crops by providing an alternative source when photosynthetic capacity is reduced during the later phases of grain filling, or during periods of environmental and biotic stresses. Domesticated grasses such as sugarcane and sweet sorghum have undergone selection for high accumulation of stem carbohydrates, which serve as the primary sources of sugars for human and animal consumption, as well as ethanol production for fuel. With the enormous expectations placed on agricultural production in the near future, research into carbohydrate partitioning in grasses is essential for maintaining and increasing yields in grass crops. This review highlights the current knowledge of non-structural carbohydrate dynamics in grass stems and discusses the impacts of stem reserves in essential agronomic grasses.


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