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Ten biomass research projects to receive USDA, DOE funding

The USDA and the Department of Energy will be funding 10 research projects aimed at accelerating plant breeding programs to improve feedstocks for the production of biofuels, bio-power and bio-based products. The $12.6 million in research grants are awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program that began in 2006. The projects are located in California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas and Virginia.

Here is a summary of the projects that have been chosen to receive funding:

Coordinated Genetic Improvement of Bioenergy Sorghum for Compositional and Agronomic Traits

Patrick Brown, University of Illinois

Goal: Discover and characterize genetic variants that affect lignocellulosic composition and saccharification yield in bioenergy feedstock grasses without compromising agronomic performance. This project will characterize genetic variation in 600 sorghum inbreds and identify traits that will guide and accelerate the genetic improvement of bioenergy sorghum and closely-related perennial grasses.

Abiotic Stress Networks Converging on FT2 to Control Growth in Populus

Amy Brunner, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Goal: Uncover divergent and convergent regulatory networks that control growth responses to day length and nutrient stress in poplar trees.

Exploiting Natural Diversity to Identify Alleles and Mechanisms of Cold Adaptation in Switchgrass

Robin Buell, Michigan State University

Goal: Identify metabolites, alleles, transcripts and regulatory RNAs associated with cold hardiness in switchgrass that will advance understanding of the biochemical, physiological and molecular mechanisms for cold adaptation and provide molecular tools to improve breeding efficiency.

A Novel Poplar Biomass Germplasm Resource for Functional Genomics and Breeding

Luca Comai, University of California

Goal: Further develop the poplar indel germplasm collection and investigate the role of gene dosage in poplar hybrid performance and contribution to bioenergy traits. This project will catalog dosage variation in approximately 500 Populus deltoides × P. nigra F1 individuals and use field trials to characterize variation for traits central to sustainable biomass production.

Genetic Dissection of AM Symbiosis to Improve Sustainability of Feedstock Production

Maria Harrison, Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research

Goal: Understand the genetic bases of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis in feedstocks through studies of a model feedstock species, Brachypodium distachyon; and sorghum, a feedstock species. This project will use Brachypodium to evaluate the function of proteins that potentially control development of the symbiosis and symbiotic P and N transport, and then evaluate AM symbiosis in sweet and cellulosic (bioenergy) sorghum lines.

Advancing Field Pennycress as a New Oilseed Biodiesel

Michael Marks, University of Minnesota

Goal: Genetically improve the agronomic traits of field pennycress for use as a new winter annual oilseed/meal/cover crop in the Upper Midwest.

Biofuels in the Arid West: Germplasm Development for Sustainable Production of Camelina Oilseed

John McKay, Colorado State University

Goal: Facilitate the development of Camelina as an oilseed feedstock that can be grown on marginal farmland with relatively low fertilizer inputs and no irrigation. Camelina has many optimal qualities as a feedstock, but its performance as a fuel with minimal processing can be improved. Leveraging the newly available genome sequence of Camelina sativa, this project will use forward and reverse genetics and natural variation to combine optimal qualities in Camelina as an oilseed feedstock.

The Brachypodium ENCODE Project—From Sequence to Function: Predicting Physiological Responses in Grasses to Facilitate Engineering of Biofuel Crops

Todd Mockler, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Goal: Using a model grass, the Brachypodium ENCODE (for Encyclopedia of DNA Elements) project will interpret molecular mechanisms and gene regulatory networks underlying drought stress. This information is expected to aid research on various grasses and accelerate development of improved bioenergy grasses.

Genomics of Energy Sorghum's Water Use Efficiency / Drought Resilience

John Mullet, Texas A&M University

Goal: Increase the water use efficiency, drought resilience and yield of high biomass energy Sorghum and other C4 bioenergy grasses. This project will use field analysis to identify traits and molecular responses and then test the utility of modulating these traits in energy Sorghum hybrids through marker-assisted breeding.

Quantifying Phenotypic and Genetic Diversity of Miscanthus sacchariflorus to Facilitate Knowledge of Directed Improvement of M.×giganteus (M. sinensis × M. sacchariflorus) and Sugarcane

Erik Sacks, University of Illinois

Goal: Facilitate the rapid development of Miscanthus by obtaining knowledge about M. sacchariflorus (Msa) genetic diversity, population structure and environmental adaptation. This project will conduct field trials with approximately 600 individuals of Msa to evaluate yield potential and adaptation. It will develop molecular markers associated with traits of interest that will enable breeders to quickly develop improved biomass cultivars of M×g and closely-related sugarcanes and energy canes.


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