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Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy

DOE and USDA Biomass Genomics Research

tree and grass logoThe Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Biological and Environmental Research has teamed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to fund projects that accelerate plant breeding programs and improve biomass feedstocks by characterizing the genes, proteins, and molecular interactions that influence biomass production.

Biomass feedstocks are fast-growing trees, shrubs, and grasses that are bred for the specific purpose of producing energy (electricity or liquid fuels) from all or part of the resulting plant. For biofuels to become economically viable as mainstream fuels, the total amount of lignocellulosic biomass produced per acre per year must be maximized, as does the amount of fuel produced per unit of biomass. At the same time, these crops must be environmentally sustainable, requiring far fewer inputs—pesticide and herbicide applications, fertilizer, water, and the use of energy-consuming farm equipment—than are needed, for example, for the corn and soybean crops currently used to produce ethanol and biodiesel.

Major agricultural crops grown today for food, feed, and fiber in the United States have not been bred for biofuels, so many carefully selected traits—such as a high ratio of seed to straw production—are disadvantageous in biofuel production. However, significant advances in breeding, molecular genetics, and genomic technologies provide an opportunity to build upon the existing knowledge base of plant biology to be able to confidently predict and manipulate the biological function of biomass feedstocks for bioenergy resources.

To capitalize on this potential, DOE and USDA initiated a competitive grant program in 2006 to support fundamental research in biomass genomics. Ultimately, the research seeks to develop and demonstrate environmentally acceptable crops and cropping systems for producing large quantities of low-cost, high-quality biomass feedstocks.

Program Goal

The overall goal is genomics-based research leading to improved use of biomass and plant feedstocks for the production of fuels such as ethanol or renewable chemical feedstocks. Specific goals include

  • Improve biomass characteristics, biomass yield, or sustainability, water and nitrogen use efficiency
  • Understand carbon partitioning and nutrient cycling in feedstocks
  • Enhance fundamental knowledge of structure, function, and organization of feedstock plant genomes
  • Enable plants to be efficiently bred or manipulated for such use

Evolution of the Program's Scope

The USDA-DOE Joint Program supports basic research including: regulation of gene networks, proteins, and metabolites; comparative genomics; systems biology; and integration of genomics with more traditional approaches. With each funding year, the program's scope has evolved to address different research areas. See focus areas by year(s) listed below.


  • Characterizing the genes, proteins, and molecular interactions that influence lignocellulosic biomass production and oil seed characteristics
  • Complex interactions between bioenergy feedstocks and the environment
  • Develop regionally adapted bioenergy feedstock cultivars


  • Phenotyping for gene/allele discovery
  • Phenomics (genotype-to-phenotype)


  • Regulatory mechanisms for carbon partitioning and nutrient cycling


  • Regulatory mechanisms necessary for feedstock manipulation
  • Sustainability and environmental stresses
  • Comparative analysis and bioinformatics


  • Regulatory mechanisms of lignocellulose and cell wall maintenance
  • Genetic markers
  • Genome organization
  • Model plants

Current and Previous USDA DOE Plant Feedstock Awards

BER Program Manager for USDA-DOE Plant Feedstock Genomics Program

Cathy Ronning
U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Biological and Environmental Research
Phone: 301-903-9549

Also of interest is the National Biofuels Action Plan released by USDA and DOE in October 2008. See Press Release or Download


Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy Abstracts [07/14]

Sustainable Bioenergy [05/14]

USDA/DOE Plant Feedstocks Genomics for Bioenergy Program: Project Director / Principal Investigator Meeting [01/14]

Switchgrass Research Group: Progress Report [1/12]




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