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Researchers look to relatives for clues in quest to develop sources of bioenergy
Date:5/14/2012

in six to eight weeks. In contrast, foxtail millet is a proper crop so it's taller, has a longer generation time of four months and no one has really developed efficient transformation methods for it. Our project with the DOE JGI allows us to tap the Setaria genomes to fast track S. viridis as a model genetic system."

One of the challenges in studying grasses for bioenergy applications is that they typically have long lifecycles and complex genomes. Jeremy Schmutz, head of the DOE JGI Plant Program at the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology, pointed out that foxtail millet (Setaria italica) has several advantages as a model. It's a compact genome and large quantities of it can be grown in small spaces in just a few months.

"We're not thinking of Setaria as a biofuel crop per se but as a very informative model since its genome is so structurally close to switchgrass," said Jeff Bennetzen, a BESC researcher, the study's co-first author and a professor at the University of Georgia. He originally proposed that the DOE JGI sequence the foxtail millet genome under the 2008 Community Sequencing Program. Schmutz said that roughly 80 percent of the foxtail millet genome has been assembled using the tried-and-true Sanger sequencing platform, along with more than 95 percent of the gene spacethe functional regions of the genome. "The Setaria genome is a high quality reference genome," he said. "If you want to conduct functional studies that require knowing all the genes and how they are localized relative to one another, then use this genome."

One such area of study is adaptation. Since it is found all over the world, Setaria is considered a good model for learning how grasses can adapt and thrive under various environmental conditions. Additionally it appears to have independently evolved a pathway for photosynthesis that is separate from that used by maize and sorghum. "With the sequencing of the Setaria
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Contact: Melanie Bernds
mbernds@danforthcenter.org
314-587-1647
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Source:Eurekalert

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