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Scientists publish complete genetic blueprint of key biofuels crop

WALNUT CREEK, Calif.-- Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI) and several partner institutions have published the sequence and analysis of the complete genome of sorghum, a major food and fodder plant with high potential as a bioenergy crop. The genome data will aid scientists in optimizing sorghum and other crops not only for food and fodder use, but also for biofuels production. The comparative analysis of the sorghum genome appears in the January 29 edition of the journal Nature.

Prized for its drought resistance and high productivity, sorghum is currently the second most prevalent biofuels crop in the United States, behind corn. Grain sorghum produces the same amount of ethanol per bushel as corn while utilizing one-third less water. As the technology for producing "cellulosic" (whole plant fiber-based) biofuels matures, sorghum's rapid growth--rising from eight to 15 feet tall in one season--is likely to make it desirable as a cellulosic biofuels "feedstock."

"This is an important step on the road to the development of cost-effective biofuels made from nonfood plant fiber," said Anna C. Palmisano, DOE Associate Director of Science for Biological and Environmental Research. "Sorghum is an excellent candidate for biofuels production, with its ability to withstand drought and prosper on more marginal land. The fully sequenced genome will be an indispensable tool for researchers seeking to develop plant variants that maximize these benefits."

Plant DNA is often notoriously difficult to analyze because of large sections of repetitive sequence and sorghum was no different. Jeremy Schmutz of the DOE JGI partner HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology (formerly the Stanford Human Genome Center) and John Bowers of the University of Georgia pointed to these complex repetitive regions as accounting for the significant size difference between the rice and sorghum genomes, while

Contact: David Gilbert
DOE/Joint Genome Institute

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