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Genomic Science Program

2010 Awardee

Development of a Low Input and Sustainable Switchgrass Feedstock Production System Utilizing Beneficial Bacterial Endophytes

INVESTIGATORS: Mei, Chuansheng; Flinn, Barry; Seiler, John (Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University); Nowak, Jerzy (Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University).

INSTITUTION: Institute for Advanced Learning and Research

NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Switchgrass is one of the most promising feedstock crops in the overall sustainable bioenergy vision of the US. It is stress tolerant and can grow on marginal lands, however, its yields can vary from site to site and from year to year. The utilization of naturally-occurring beneficial bacterial endophytes with switchgrass represents a practical and feasible way to develop a low input and sustainable feedstock production system. We have demonstrated that one of Burkholderia spp. is able to colonize and significantly promote growth of switchgrass Alamo under both in vitro and growth chamber conditions.  On the contrary, switchgrass cultivar Cave-In-Rock does not respond to the endophyte.  An understanding of the gene networks governing beneficial bacterial endophyte infection, colonization, and mutualism of host plants will build a solid foundation to aid in the breeding of cultivars with a universal response to endophyte colonization, while developing a low input and sustainable feedstock production system through the use of beneficial bacterial endophytes. 

OBJECTIVES: Our aim is to understand the molecular and physiological mechanisms by which the endophyte promotes switchgrass growth. We will: (1) Carry out global gene expression during bacterial endophyte-switchgrass associations to identify plant genes and gene networks involved in the endophyte-switchgrass interaction, (2) Several key genes identified in Objective 1 will be studied to assess their function in bacterial endophyte-switchgrass associations, and (3) Gross cell wall composition, saccharification efficiency, and whole plant physiological processes will be analyzed following bacterial endophyte inoculation.

APPROACH: (1) For the first objective, we will use the responsive cultivar Alamo and the nonresponsive cultivar Cave-In-Rock to carry out global gene expression profiling of switchgrass following endophyte inoculation, using switchgrass EST microarrays. We will focus on identified molecular signaling genes, transcription factor genes, and genes involved in cell wall synthesis in subsequent work. (2) For the second objective, we will use genetic engineering techniques to study the key gene functions in the response to bacterial endophytes by over-expression or knockout in transgenic switchgrass. (3) For the third objective, we will assess the impact of endophyte inoculation on gross plant cell wall composition and saccharification efficiency, as well as investigate whole plant physiological processes related to plant performance by measuring plant photosynthesis rate, water use efficiency, drought tolerance, and carbon sequestration following bacterial inoculation of the plants, in both greenhouse and field settings.

Name: Mei, Chuansheng
Phone: 434-766-6704
Fax: 434-791-3279



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