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 $12.2 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 2011, DOE will provide over $10 million in funding over 3 years, while USDA will award $2 million over 3 years.
Goal: Identify natural genetic variation in switchgrass that correlates with lignocellulose-to-biofuel conversion qualities. Most plant dry matter is composed of lignocellulose, and because switchgrass yields high amounts of this material and tolerates drought and other stresses it is an attractive candidate for development into a biofuel crop. This project should enhance understanding of the qualities that critically impact the conversion efficiency of lignocellulose into biofuels.
Goal: Identify key interactions between proteins associated with wood formation in poplar, a woody biomass crop. Wood characteristics result from the coordinated actions of enzymes and structural proteins in the cells, which typically interact with other proteins to perform their roles. This project will uncover the potential of the biomass protein-protein interactome to contribute to the development of poplar trees with superior biomass feedstock potential.
Goal: Improve sucrose accumulation in sweet sorghum through investigating the mechanisms regulating carbon allocation to stems. A rapidly growing, widely adaptable crop, sweet sorghum accumulates in the stem high concentrations of sucrose that can be efficiently converted to ethanol, making this a valuable candidate bioenergy feedstock. This research will use a combination of approaches to identify bioenergy-relevant genes and to understand their functions in carbon partitioning in sweet sorghum.
Goal: Provide new genomic tools for poplar breeders to identify germplasm with unique genotypes and increased biomass yields, and develop techniques for creating poplar hybrids with unique combinations of chromosomal regions. Because such properties can confer faster growth, this project addresses a challenge posed by the long generation time of trees through fast and cost-effective nontransgenic genetic manipulation.
Goal: Build the germplasm, breeding, genetic, and genomic foundations necessary to optimize cellulosic sorghum as a bioenergy feedstock. This project will facilitate breeding sorghum lines optimized for energy production and selected to maximize energy accumulation per unit time, land area, and/or production input.
Goal: Expedite discovery of genes controlling biomass productivity in switchgrass by leveraging results from rice, a well-studied model grass. Switchgrass and other perennial grasses are promising candidates for bioenergy feedstocks; however, the genetic resources necessary to develop these species are currently limited. This work will greatly expand the research tool box for switchgrass and advance its improvement as an energy crop.
Goal: Identify genes involved in light perception and signaling in the model grass Brachypodium distachyon to increase yield and improve the composition of bioenergy grasses. Plant growth and development, including biomass accumulation, are affected by the light environment. Finding key genes involved in modulating light perception could be useful in targeted breeding or engineering efforts for improved bioenergy grass crops.
Goal: Facilitate development of Miscanthus as a bioenergy crop by acquisition of fundamental information about genetic diversity and environmental adaptation. Miscanthus is among the most promising cellulosic biofuel crops, but its improvement as a feedstock will require a broader genetic base. Identification of molecular markers associated with traits of interest will improve Miscanthus breeding efforts.
Goal: Improve energy cane by identifying the genetic components contributing to biomass production. Energy cane (Saccharum complex hybrids) holds great potential as a bioenergy feedstock in the southern United States. This project will produce foundational genetic resources for energy cane breeders to efficiently develop cultivars with increased biomass production and reduced input requirements.
Goal: Integrate key genomics-assisted approaches into biomass sorghum research, and combine with high-throughput and traditional field-based phenotyping methods to enable advanced breeding strategies. By both exploiting genetic diversity and understanding the genotype-phenotype relationship, predictive approaches for efficient and cost-effective breeding can be developed.