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Genomic Science Program

2007 Awardee

Strategies for Using Molecular Markers to Simultaneously ImproveCorn Grain Yield and Stover Quality for Ethanol Production

INVESTIGATORS: R. Bernardo, H.-J. G. Jung

INSTITUTIONS: University of Minnesota; USDA-ARS

NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Corn is the major crop in theU.S., with 275 million metric tons of grain harvested each year for feed,food, and industrialuses. An estimated 235 million metric tons of corn stover (i.e., stalks,leaves, cobs, husks, and tassels) are left unharvested in U.S. cornfields each year. This stover represents a most abundant source oflignocellulosic substrate that can be converted to ethanol biofuel.But while today's corn hybrids have been aggressively bred for grainyield, they have not been bred for stover-quality traits importantfor ethanol production. This research will lead to answers to the keyquestions "Can corn be bred for both grain yield and lignocellulosic-substrate-for-ethanoluses?" and, if so, "How can this best be done with DNA markers?" Thebenchmark genetic information generated in this research can then beapplied in breeding for new corn varieties that meet both traditionaland bioenergy needs in a sustainable, non-competing way.

OBJECTIVES: Our objective in this research is to optimize the use ofDNA markers to simultaneously breed for high corn grain yield (fornon-energy and energy uses) and high stover quality for ethanol production.Specifically, we will (1) determine the prospects of and identify challengesin marker-assisted breeding for both corn grain yield and stover qualitytraits important for ethanol production, and (2) determine if genomewideselection (which does not require finding markers with significanteffects) is superior to the usual approach of selecting only for significantmarkers, with the goal of simultaneously improving corn grain yieldand stover quality.

APPROACH: We will use simple-sequence repeat DNA markers combined withclassical quantitative-trait analyses to study the extent to whichgrain yield, agronomic traits, and stover quality can be simultaneouslyimproved in the intermated B73 x Mo17 corn mapping population. We willdetermine if there are antagonistic relationships that impede the jointimprovement of these traits at the DNA-marker and quantitative-traitlevel. We will identify which of several stover-quality traits (glucoserelease, cell-wall glucose concentration, and cell-wall lignin concentration)would be the easiest target for marker-based selection. Furthermore,we will evaluate a novel strategy called genome-wide selection to simultaneouslybreed for grain yield, agronomic traits, and stover-quality traits.Genomewide selection, a seemingly counterintuitive procedure that circumventsthe need to first identify DNA markers associated with the target traits,has been shown in previous studies to substantially increase the gainsfrom marker-based selection. At the same time, we will determine ifthere are genomic regions with major effects for glucose release, glucoseconcentration, lignin concentration, and other cell wall traits.

Name: R. Bernardo
Phone: 612-625-6282
Fax: 612-625-1268




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