2012 Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy

USDA and DOE Fund Nine New Projects in 2012 for Biomass Genomics Research

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative have jointly selected nine projects for awards totaling $11.5 million for biobased-fuel research. These awards continue a commitment begun in 2006 to conduct fundamental research in biomass genomics that will establish a scientific foundation to facilitate and accelerate the use of woody plant tissue for bioenergy and biofuel.

2012 Awards

In 2012, DOE will provide $9.5 million in funding over 3 years, while USDA will award $2 million over 3 years.

Functional Gene Discovery and Characterization of Genes and Alleles Affecting Wood Biomass Yield and Quality in Populous

  • Victor Busov, Michigan Technological University, Houghton $1,097,567
  • DOE-BER-funded project

Goal: To discover and characterize novel genes and alleles that affect wood biomass yield and quality in Populus. By combining mutagenesis for functional identification of genes with next generation sequencing technologies for identification of alleles with breeding values, these discoveries can enable knowledge-based approaches for development of specialized bioenergy poplar cultivars.

Identifying Differences in Abiotic Stress Gene Networks between Lowland and Upland Ecotypes of Switchgrass

  • Kevin Childs, Michigan State University, East Lansing $1,246,093
  • DOE-BER funded project

Goal: Investigate response to drought and salt stress in a diverse collection of lowland and upland switchgrass ecotypes. Comparing differential gene expression between tolerant and sensitive lines will allow a better understanding of this response, as well as the identification of genes and germplasm that can be used to improve cultivated switchgrass to better tolerate these abiotic stresses.

Poplar Interactome for Bioenergy Research

  • Pankaj Jaiswal, Oregon State University, Corvallis $1,362,045
  • DOE-BER funded project

Goal: Identify genome-wide functional gene networks and subnetworks in poplar that are associated with abiotic stress tolerance and bioenergy related traits, as well as candidate genes which interact to produce abiotic stress resistant phenotypes.  Using a combination of computational projections, gene expression analysis, and experimental validation, this project will further development of poplar varieties that can thrive under abiotic stress on marginal land that is unsuitable for food crops.

The Genetics of Biofuel Traits in Panicum Grasses: Developing a Model System with Diploid Panicum hallii

  • Thomas Juenger, University of Texas, Austin $1,465,840
  • DOE-BER funded project

Goal: Utilize genetic and genomic analyses to better understand the growth and development of Panicum grasses, including the diploid Panicum hallii, and provide tools for predicting biomass and tissue related phenotypes from genotypes. This project will exploit natural variation to discover the genes important in biomass production, tissue quality, and stress tolerance under diverse environmental conditions, providing avenues for improving C4 perennial grasses for use as bioenergy crops.

Genomics of Bioenergy Grass Architecture

  • Andrew Paterson, University of Georgia, Athens $575,000
  • USDA-NIFA funded project

Goal: Understand the genetic determinants of plant architecture that are important to the design of sorghum genotypes optimized for biomass production in a range of environments. Optimal biomass productivity in temperate latitudes and/or under perennial production systems may require substantial changes to architecture of plants of tropical origin that have previously been adapted to annual cultivation. This project will further enhance the value of many existing resources while also adding new dimensions to scientific research capacity.

Deciphering Natural Allelic Variation in Switchgrass for Biomass Yield and Quality Using a Nested Association Mapping Populations

  • Malay Saha, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Ardmore, OK $1,478,982
  • DOE-BER funded project

Goal: Understand the genetic basis of key biofeedstock traits in switchgrass by identifying genetic markers controlling important biomass traits. Most of these traits, such as biomass yield and cell wall composition, are complex and difficult to improve, but improvement can be obtained using traditional breeding augmented by marker-assisted selection. Validated markers cosegregating with bioenergy-relevant traits will be used to initiate a marker-assisted and/or genomic selection program to accelerate development of superior cultivars.

Genetic Architecture of Sorghum Biomass Yield Component Traits Identified Using High-Throughput, Field-Based Phenotyping Technologies

  • Patrick Schnable, Iowa State University, Ames $1,425,000
  • USDA-NIFA funded project

Goal: Test the hypothesis that variation in biomass growth rate can be explained by variation in photosynthetic rates and/or amounts of photo-protection. Data from a large, genetically diverse sorghum collection will be collected at multiple time points during the growing season using an automated high-throughput field-based plant phenotyping system. Identifying the genetic control of biomass growth rates will allow breeders to genetically “stack” genes that control maximal growth rates, thereby paving a path to producing higher yielding hybrids.

The Genomic Basis of Heterosis in High-Yielding Triploid Hybrids of Willows (Salix spp.) Bioenergy Crops

  • Lawrence Smart, Cornell University, Ithaca NY $1,365,673
  • DOE-BER funded project

Goal: Investigate how gene expression patterns in willow hybrids are related to yield potential and other traits important for biofuels production. Yield improvement in many crops has been based on capturing hybrid vigor (aka heterosis), but its complex genetic basis is poorly understood. In this project we will learn if there is a bias in the expression of key genes from one parent versus the other in species hybrids, and whether there is a gene dosage effect skewing gene expression patterns in triploid progeny compared with their diploid and tetraploid parents.

The Dual Effect of Tubulin Manipulation on Populus Wood Formation and Drought Tolerance

  • Chung-Jui Tsai, University of Georgia, Athens $1,496,000
  • DOE-BER funded project

Goal: Determine how tubulin levels and/or tubulin protein modifications affect wood development and water use in Populus. Tubulin proteins form microtubule scaffolds which participate in cell wall biogenesis as well as regulate stomatal guard cell movements for photosynthesis and transpiration. This project will allow dissection of the contribution of tubulins to two inter-dependent processes, water utilization and the development of lignocellulosic biomass, which are relevant to bioenergy crop improvement.