Characterization, genetic variation, and combining ability of maize traits relevant to the production of Cellulosic Ethanol

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Maize (Zea mays L.) stover has been identified as an important feedstock for the production of cellulosic ethanol. Our objectives were to measure hybrid effect and combining ability patterns of traits related to cellulosic ethanol production, determine if germplasm and mutations used for silage production would also be beneficial for feedstock production, and examine relationships between traits that are relevant to selective breeding. We evaluated grain hybrids, germplasm bred for silage production, brown-midrib hybrids, and a leafy hybrid. Yield and composition traits were measured in four environments. There was a 53% difference in stover yield between commercial grain hybrids that were equivalent for other production-related traits. Silage germplasm may be useful for increasing stover yield and reducing lignin concentration. We found much more variation among hybrids than either in vitro ruminal fermentability or polysaccharide concentration. Correlations between traits were mostly favorable or nonexistent. Our results suggest that utilizing standing genetic variation of maize in breeding programs could substantially increase the amount of biofuels produced from stover per unit area of land.Z

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