Jeffrey Bennetzen, the Norman and Doris Giles/Georgia Research Alliance professor of molecular genetics in Franklin College, received the second grant for $1.295 million. It will fund a cooperative project with Katrien Devos, a CAES professor of crop and soil science and plant biology. They hope to develop genetic and genomic tools to study foxtail millet, a close relative of switchgrass.
Switchgrass is an excellent source of biomass for producing ethanol. Unlike corn, which is used now to make most U.S. ethanol, switchgrass is a perennial that grows on poor soil with little water, fertilizer or pesticides.
"Ethanol from switchgrass is a very different story from ethanol from maize grain," Bennetzen said. "Ethanol from maize grain requires large inputs and produces no net carbon capture to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Switchgrass captures carbon dioxide very effectively and will not lead to increased food costs because it does not take acreage away from food production."
But switchgrass has limitations, he said. Researchers need to find more efficient ways to convert lignocellulosethe material that makes up wood, leaves, stemsinto ethanol.
Learning more about foxtail millet, he said, will help. It's easier to study than switchgrass.
"Once the foxtail millet genome is sequenced, we will be able to quickly find the genes involved in making lignocellulose in foxtail millet, and this will make them easy to find in switchgrass as well," Bennetzen said. "We can then study these genes and find ways to improve this performance so that switchgrass is easier to convert to ethanol."
Improving this process is part of another project at UGA called the BioEnergy Science Center.
"For the average Georgian, the outcome of the research in this project will be less expensive liquid fuels, less dependence on foreign oil, lower food costs and less re
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University of Georgia