In the search for energy alternatives to fossil fuels like oil and coal, researchers and governments are turning to biomass. Energy from plant matter could be less polluting and more sustainable than fossil fuels, but only if you could grow enough.
Now, if a plant stayed young forever, it would just grow and grow, and it would always generate plenty of material for making fuel! That’s no longer a fantasy: researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute in Muenster, Germany, have found a gene that allows tobacco plants to live for years on end (their usual life spans are about 3 months).
The scientists found a gene that controlled the plants’ ability to flower and bloom; that gene also triggered the aging process in the plants. By altering the expression of that gene, plants have been living up to 8 years now, and stand more than 6 meters high (normal plants are usually no more than 2 meters high). In addition, the leaves on the plant, which should normally turn yellow and drop off, have stayed on, looking healthy and green.
The findings open the door to the possibility of growing plants in large enough volumes to produce energy-producing biomass. The gene, which is found in other plants, could be used to enhance growth of a number of crops, including potatoes and beets. The researchers warn, however, that the manipulation only works in flowering plants, where blooming is physiologically connected to aging. Naturally, that also rules out us.
Source: Fraunhofer Institute