2017 Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy

USDA and DOE Fund Six New Projects in 2017 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 six projects for awards totaling $6.6 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.

2017 Awards

In 2017, DOE will provide nearly $4.6 million in funding over 3 years, while USDA will award $2 million over 3 years.

Optimizing Tradeoffs Implicit During Bioenergy Crop Improvement: Understanding the Effect of Altered Cell Wall and Sugar Content on Sorghum-Associated Pathogenic Bacteria

  • Rebecca Bart, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis, MO
  • DOE BER– funded project

Goal: To establish the sorghum-Xanthomonas pathosystem as a model for deducing how latent microbial pathogens might exploit key biofuel crop traits. This research will reveal the mechanisms underlying tolerance to pathogens that must be maintained during biofuel trait optimization, enhancing knowledge of the impact of bioenergy relevant traits on pathogen susceptibility. This is a necessary first step towards the development of novel routes for disease control that can be deployed in parallel with targeted alterations to sugar and cell wall composition during bioenergy crop improvement and breeding efforts.

Discovery and Characterization of Dosage-Dependent Disease Resistance Loci in Poplar

  • Luca Comai, University of California, Davis
  • USDA NIFA–funded project

Goal: To describe and characterize the genetic regulation of disease resistance in forest trees. The research will leverage a unique set of poplar hybrids containing defined insertions and deletions of specific chromosomal regions, enabling genome-wide scans for genes influencing susceptibility or resistance. Outputs will include a new, comprehensive description of the genetic regulation of disease response in poplar, identification of individual genes influencing disease response, and identification of potential genotypes and strategies for durable resistance.

Elucidating Mechanisms of Rust Pathogenesis for Engineering Resistance in Poplar

  • Edward Eisenstein, University of Maryland, College Park
  • DOE BER– funded project

Goal: To investigate the molecular basis for the virulence of Melampsora larici-populina towards Populus species. Genome-wide, high-throughput screens will be used to identify pathogen effectors that suppress host immunity, host factors that are targets of pathogen effectors, as well as the components of poplar nutrient homeostasis that are hijacked by the pathogen to establish disease. This information will shed new light on the mechanism of rust-poplar interactions, and will enable the construction of transgenic poplars as a resource for the research community to accelerate the evaluation of disease models.

Towards Durable Resistance to Septoria Stem Canker and Leaf Spot: A Molecular Understanding of Resistance

  • Jared LeBoldus, Oregon State University, Corvallis
  • DOE BER– funded project

Goal: To identify, validate, and functionally characterize alleles that confer resistance to Septoria canker and leaf spot in Populus. The proposed research will elucidate a major mechanism of resistance to Sphaerulina musiva, the major limiting factor to plantations in eastern North America. Genome-wide association mapping, CRISPR/Cas9, and protein-protein assays will be used, enabling marker-aided breeding, reducing costs, and accelerating development of resistant varieties.

Identification of Adaptive Fungal Pathogen Resistance Loci in Switchgrass

  • David Lowry, Michigan State University, East Lansing
  • DOE BER– funded project

Goal: To identify the genetic loci underlying switchgrass pathogen resistance and understand the distribution of pathogens across different ecoregions of the United States. This project will leverage existing plantings of switchgrass, from Texas to Michigan, to clarify the distribution of pathogen across latitudes and discover the loci responsible for resistance to those pathogens through quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping and Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS). Overall, this project will facilitate the development of regionally adapted switchgrass cultivars.

Advancing Field Pennycress as a New Oilseed Biofuels Feedstock That Does Not Require New Land Commitments

  • John Sedbrook, Illinois State University, Normal
  • USDA NIFA–funded project

Goal: To genetically improve the agronomic traits of Field Pennycress (Thlaspi arvense L.; pennycress) for its use as a new winter annual oilseed/meal/cover crop in the U.S. Midwest. Genes for desirable traits, including high seed yield, reduced glucosinolate, reduced seed coat fiber, and decreased time to maturity, will be identified, characterized, and introgressed into breeding lines to generate elite pennycress varieties for commercialization.