"This is the general agronomic stuff we've been breeding for, not the genes for dwarfing and earliness. Most of this sorghum now goes to chicken feed or ethanol in the United States."
"We do have a collaboration with Markus Pauly, an EBI researcher at Berkeley who is looking at the composition of sorghum. But the bigger problem with biomass sorghum right now is the moisture content of the biomass. Unlike miscanthus or switchgrass, where you can go in and harvest in February when it's pretty much bone dry, and all the nitrogen has already been moved back down underground, sorghum doesn't work that way," Brown said.
Because biomass sorghum is grown annually, growing until frost comes, when it is harvested it has a high moisture content. "When we cut it down, there's tons of biomass. I don't know that there's anything else that can match it in the area, but the biomass is really high moisture. For the existing cellulosic idea as it stands now, that is not very useful," he said.
"That's one of the roadblocks to biomass sorghum right now," he said. "Sweet sorghum, where you squeeze the sugary juice out like sugarcane, may be closer on the horizon. There is an ethanol plant starting up in southern Illinois that plans to use 25 percent sweet sorghum. "Right now, we're using sorghum as a model --maybe we can find sorghum genes that we can also tinker with in miscanthus or sugarcane," he said.
Brown added that with genetic studies and improvements there are other value-added opportunities for sorghum grain. "It's not quite as nutritious as corn, but researchers are looking at it as a way to combat obesity. They are looking at compounds that will prevent you from absorbing all the nutrition in your food in the small intestine," he said.
Another gene found shows that sorghum produces a huge amount of antioxidant in the outer lay
|Contact: Stephanie Henry|
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences