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 $9 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.
In 2010, DOE will provide $7 million in funding over 3 years, while USDA will award $2 million over 3 years.
Project Goal: Identify the targets of MicroRNAs (miRNAs) in different organs and under adverse environmental conditions in the model grass Brachypodium and in the energy crops switchgrass, Miscanthus, and sorghum. miRNAs are important regulatory molecules that repress selected “target” genes to enable normal development, stress responses, and other processes. This project should enhance understanding of regulatory networks and may suggest new strategies for improving biomass energy crops.
Project Goal: Investigate how sucrose transporter proteins (SUTs) function to facilitate the distribution of sucrose for transient storage and biosynthetic use among different pathways in the developing wood matrix. Wood for lignocellulosic feedstocks is synthesized from sucrose that is exported from leaves and then processed in the wood-forming organs. SUTs mediate the export and efficient movement of sucrose from source leaves to sink organs in all plant species.
Project Goal: Investigate the role of small RNA molecules in biomass production and their importance in the regulation of cellulose and lignin biosynthesis. The tissues and organs of next-generation biofuel crops that provide biomass for energy production are primarily composed of lignin and cellulose. This research will focus on Miscanthus species as well as other biomass crops including switchgrass and prairie cordgrass.
Project Goal: Understand the molecular and physiological mechanisms by which interaction with bacterial endophytes promotes growth in the promising bioenergy crop switchgrass. The use of naturally occurring beneficial bacterial endophytes with switchgrass represents a practical and feasible way to develop a low-input and sustainable feedstock production system.
Project Goal: Determine if changes in the Glossy15 gene system of sorghum might contribute to current physiological differences among grain, sweet and biomass sorghums, and whether this gene can be used to convert superior sorghum grain hybrids to cultivars enhanced for bioenergy production.
Project Goal: Identify the genetic and biochemical basis for increasing yield and improving the composition of high-biomass cellulosic energy sorghum. Select genotypes will be analyzed for stem biomass yield, structure, and composition. The resources developed will enable analysis of the genes that modulate these traits and facilitate improvement of energy sorghum and other bioenergy grasses.
Project Goal: Identify and characterize maize lines with enhanced biorefinery feedstock characteristics, particularly those containing higher yields of fermentable sugars. Stover, the material from the corn plant that remains after removal of the grain, consists primarily of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Because corn stover is generated by U.S. agriculture in significant amounts, this lignocellulosic residue is desirable to use as a biofuel source.
Project Goal: Gain insight into the impacts of variations in temperature and water availability on nutrient uptake by root cells. Root hair cells function to increase root surface area and to mediate water and nutrient uptake. The data obtained in this project should provide a better understanding of the impacts of climate change (heat and water limitation) on plant root physiology.
Project Goal: Generate 30,000 additional insertional mutants in the model grass Brachypodium distachyon and sequence DNA flanking the insertion sites. Insertional mutants are a powerful research tool that allow researchers to rapidly determine the function of specific genes. Mutants from outside collaborators will be integrated into this collection and made available through a public database.