URBANA A $1 million USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) grant will help University of Illinois researchers determine if changes in the Glossy15 gene system of sorghum will lead to enhanced bioenergy production in the future.
"Understanding how to modify crops we already know about and tailoring them to bioenergy uses is becoming increasingly important," said Stephen Moose, U of I professor of crop sciences and member of the Energy Biosciences Institute in the Institute for Genomic Biology. "If we really want to make this happen, we need to tailor our crops to local environments and develop crops that are economically and environmentally sustainable."
In order to improve biomass yields and conversion to bioenergy, plant traits such as growth habit, sensitivity to day length, flowering time, carbon partitioning, and nutrient use efficiency must be improved, Moose said.
In maize, researchers have found that increased expression of the Glossy15 gene delays flowering and reduces grain yields while leading to greater accumulation of total biomass and stalk sugars. In addition, the nitrogen requirements to maximize total biomass are much less for the hybrids with higher Glossy15 expression.
"Because of the close relationship between maize and sorghum, it's possible that interactions between the genes in maize will help program differences in shoot maturation that distinguish grain, sweet and biomass sorghum cultivars," he said. "We are interested in finding out if this gene can be used to convert superior sorghum grain hybrids to cultivars enhanced for bioenergy production."
Through comparative genomics, targeted resequencing, RNA expression analysis and association mapping, U of I researchers plan to further characterize sorghum in order to regulate shoot maturation.
"Collectively, our results may lead to improved sorghum cultivars optimized for sustainable, low-cost production of biomass for lignocellulosic processing," he said.
Their project titled "Functional analysis of regulatory networks linking shoot maturation, stem carbon partitioning, and nutrient utilization in sorghum" has been approved for the next three years. Researchers include Moose and Patrick Brown of the U of I, and Max Moehs of Arcadia Biosciences in California.
USDA AFRI grants are awarded to projects that accelerate plant breeding programs and improve biomass feedstocks by characterizing the genes, proteins, and molecular interactions that influence biomass production. Their goal is to lay the groundwork for biofuels derived from lignocellulosic biomass materials.
|Contact: Jennifer Shike|
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences