INVESTIGATORS: Ana Paula Alonso (PI), Erich Grotewold, Ajay Shah
INSTITUTIONS: Ohio State University, Columbus
PROJECT SUMMARY: Bioenergy crops, which have potential for jet fuel production and do not compete with food crops, are urgently needed. Our strategy to address this fundamental challenge is to develop pennycress (Thlaspi arvense), a member of the Brassicaceae, as a bioenergy crop, taking advantage of its ability to produce seed oil that is ideally suited as a renewable source of biodiesel and aviation fuel. Moreover, pennycress performs well on marginal land, has a short maturity time and grows off-season, serving as a winter cover crop, and complementing the production of commodity food crops. However, for this plant to become an economically viable and sustainable source of jet fuel, molecular and genetic resources need to be developed, and integrated with multi-variable techno-economic analyses to guide strategies for increase oil production through breeding and/or genetic manipulation. These are the gaps that this project intends to fill.
Specifically, we will: 1) Investigate pennycress natural variation to identify candidate genes and biomarkers associated with oil accumulation and fatty acid composition. We will determine variation in genome-wide gene expression and intracellular metabolites in seeds from pennycress natural accessions. 2) Identify targets to improve oil content and composition. We will generate a flux map of carbon partitioning in developing pennycress embryos, and overlay metabolic maps with levels of transcripts and intracellular compounds to identify metabolic bottlenecks in oil accumulation. Finally, we will use 13C-based metabolic flux analysis to validate bottlenecks in two accessions with contrasting oil contents. 3) Establish metabolic engineering targets and develop community resources. We will analyze techno-economics of pennycress based agronomic and supply systems that will provide targets for future efforts aimed at increasing seed oil production through rational metabolic engineering and breeding. We will also develop a public seed collection of pennycress mutants and transgenic lines, facilitating community synergy and accelerating research towards the established production goals.
Taken together, the knowledge and resources generated through this interdisciplinary project will facilitate rational breeding and metabolic engineering of pennycress and related alternative bioenergy crops. This research is important and timely because i) human demands for biofuels are rapidly increasing and there is an urgent need to develop sustainable jet fuels that decrease carbon footprint; ii) the results from this study can lead to major breakthroughs for improving oil content in alternative bioenergy crops.
Name: Alonso, Ana