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 ten projects for awards totaling $12.6 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.
In 2014, DOE will provide $10.6 million in funding over 3 years, while USDA will award $2 million over 3 years.
Goal: Discover and characterize novel genetic variants that affect lignocellulosic composition and saccharification yield in bioenergy feedstock grasses without compromising agronomic performance. This project will characterize genetic variation in compositional and agronomic traits in a panel of 600 diverse sorghum inbreds and identify useful traits and variants that will guide and accelerate the genetic improvement of both bioenergy sorghum and closely related perennial grasses.
Goal: Uncover divergent and convergent regulatory networks that control growth responses to daylength and nutrient stress in poplar. Regulation of growth and dormancy by such seasonal and episodic environmental factors is of central importance to productivity in temperate tree species. This project will characterize genome-wide gene expression changes in response to daylength and nutrient stress and identify protein-protein and protein-DNA networks that are centered on FT2, a key integrator of multiple abiotic signaling pathways in Populus.
Goal: Identify metabolites, alleles, transcripts, and regulatory RNAs associated with cold hardiness in switchgrass that will advance understanding of the biochemical, physiological, and molecular mechanisms for cold adaptation and provide molecular tools to improve breeding efficiency. Switchgrass biomass yields could potentially be increased by extending the northern range in which lowland ecotypes are grown, but these types are not cold tolerant and have low survival rates outside their adapted range. This project will identify genes and alleles relevant to cold hardiness that can be incorporated rapidly into switchgrass breeding programs to increase biomass and survival in northern latitudes.
Goal: Further develop the poplar indel germplasm collection and use it to investigate the role of gene dosage in poplar hybrid performance and contribution to bioenergy traits. This project will catalog dosage variation in ~500 Populus deltoides × P. nigra F1 individuals, use field trials to characterize variation for traits central to sustainable production of biomass with optimal feedstock properties, and identify specific regulatory or functional gene modules underlying phenotypes of interest, ultimately to produce new cultivars directly usable for bioenergy applications.
Goal: Understand the genetic bases of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis in feedstocks through studies of a model feedstock species, Brachypodium distachyon, and sorghum, a feedstock species. This project will utilize Brachypodium to evaluate the function of candidate proteins that potentially control development of the symbiosis and symbiotic P and N transport, and then evaluate AM symbiosis in diverse sweet and cellulosic (bioenergy) sorghum lines. This research will inform feedstock breeding programs and enhance the sustainability of feedstock production.
Goal: Genetically improve the agronomic traits of field pennycress (Thlaspi arvense L.) for its use as a new winter annual oilseed/meal/cover crop in the Upper Midwest. Pennycress can be double-cropped on the same land during the time between the traditional corn harvest and subsequent planting of soybeans the following spring. This oilseed plant holds much agronomic promise, but improved domesticated varieties remain to be developed. The project will lead to superior, higher-yielding pennycress varieties grown as a winter oilseed crop integrated within corn-soybean rotations throughout the Midwest.
Goal: Facilitate the development of Camelina as an oilseed feedstock crop that can be grown on marginal farmland with relatively low fertilizer inputs and no irrigation. Camelina has many optimal qualities as an oilseed feedstock, but its performance as a fuel with minimal processing can be improved. Leveraging the newly available genome sequence of Camelina sativa, this project will use forward and reverse genetics and natural variation to combine optimal qualities in Camelina as an oilseed feedstock for the Great Plains and Western United States.
Goal: Identify and characterize the functional elements associated with progressive drought response in the Brachypodium distachyon genome sequence and develop integrated genome feature maps that will enable advanced modeling of complex pathways in plants. Using a model grass, the Brachypodium ENCODE (for Encyclopedia of DNA Elements) project will elucidate the molecular mechanisms and gene regulatory networks underlying drought stress, information which will aid basic and applied research on a wide range of bioenergy grasses and accelerate deployment of improved bioenergy grass feedstocks.
Goal: Increase the water use efficiency, drought resilience, and yield of high biomass energy Sorghum and other C4 bioenergy grasses. This project will use field analysis to identify traits and molecular responses that improve water use efficiency and drought resilience of energy Sorghum and characterize genetic variation, and then test the utility of modulating these traits in energy Sorghum hybrids through marker-assisted breeding.
Goal: Facilitate the rapid development of Miscanthus as a bioenergy crop by obtaining fundamental knowledge about M. sacchariflorus (Msa) genetic diversity, population structure, and environmental adaptation. This project will conduct field trials with ~600 individuals of Msa from throughout its natural range to evaluate yield potential and adaptation. It will develop molecular markers associated with traits of interest that will enable plant breeders to quickly develop improved biomass cultivars of M×g as well as the closely related sugarcanes and energycanes.