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A major challenge in the identification and development of superior feedstocks for the production of second generation biofuels is the rapid assessment of biomass composition in a large number of samples. Currently, highly accurate and precise robotic analysis systems are available for the evaluation of biomass composition, on a large number of samples, with a variety of pretreatments. However, the lack of an inexpensive and high-throughput process for large scale sampling of biomass resources is still an important limiting factor. Our goal was to develop a simple mechanical maize stalk core sampling device that can be utilized to collect uniform samples of a dimension compatible with robotic processing and analysis, while allowing the collection of hundreds to thousands of samples per day.
We have developed a core sampling device (CSD) to collect maize stalk samples compatible with robotic processing and analysis. The CSD facilitates the collection of thousands of uniform tissue cores consistent with high-throughput analysis required for breeding, genetics, and production studies. With a single CSD operated by one person with minimal training, more than 1,000 biomass samples were obtained in an eight-hour period. One of the main advantages of using cores is the high level of homogeneity of the samples obtained and the minimal opportunity for sample contamination. In addition, the samples obtained with the CSD can be placed directly into a bath of ice, dry ice, or liquid nitrogen maintaining the composition of the biomass sample for relatively long periods of time.
The CSD has been demonstrated to successfully produce homogeneous stalk core samples in a repeatable manner with a throughput substantially superior to the currently available sampling methods. Given the variety of maize developmental stages and the diversity of stalk diameter evaluated, it is expected that the CSD will have utility for other bioenergy crops as well.