Genomic Selection to Accelerate Switchgrass Breeding

The Science

The perennial grass switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) shows great promise as a biofuel feedstock due to its ability to produce high biomass yields with relatively few inputs, and on lands not typically used for agricultural crops. The high genetic variability among different switchgrass accessions indicates that varieties with improved biomass quality traits could be developed through traditional breeding programs. However, this potential has been largely unattained due to the lengthy breeding cycle as well as a need for accurate measurement of biomass yield. A new approach known as genomic selection, which uses whole-genome, high-density molecular markers developed with high-throughput genotyping, has been used successfully with livestock and forest trees. Taking advantage of available genomic resources for switchgrass, including a reference genome, researchers have evaluated the accuracy of three genomic selection models in predicting phenotypic values of seven morphological and 13 biomass quality traits in a switchgrass association panel. Most traits were predicted with high accuracy, suggesting that the application of genomic selection to switchgrass breeding would be highly beneficial. Rather than waiting until the plant reaches adulthood, accurate prediction of biomass yield will allow DNA marker-based selection of seedlings, thus greatly accelerating breeding and potentially transforming switchgrass improvement efforts.

BER Program Manager

Kari Perez

U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (SC-33)
Biological Systems Science Division
[email protected]


The research was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Department of Energy Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy program.


Lipka, A. E., F. Lu, J. H. Cherney, E. S. Buckler, M. D. Casler, and D. E. Costich.  2014. “Accelerating the Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) Breeding Cycle Using Genomic Selection Approaches,” PLoS ONE 9(11), e112227. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0112227.