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USDA and DOE award $8.1M to 7 biomass genomics research projects for biofuel and bioenergy

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research (DOE-BER), and the US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (USDA-NIFA) are jointly awarding $8.1 million in research grants to 7 projects using genomics to develop non-food feedstocks that can be used for bioenergy. The awards continue a commitment by the two agencies 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. (Earlier post.)

In 2013, DOE will provide $6.1 million in funding over 3 years, while USDA will award $2 million over 3 years. Overall, the USDA and DOE projects are designed to improve biomass—including selected trees and grasses—to be grown for biofuels by increasing their yield, quality and ability to adapt to extreme environments. Researchers will rely on the most advanced techniques of modern genomics to develop breeding and other strategies to improve the crops. The research will be conducted on switchgrass, poplar and pine, among other plants.

Because these non-food crops will be optimized to tolerate conditions such as drought and poor soils, they can be grown on marginal lands unsuitable for food crops, thereby avoiding competition with food production. Farmers will have the option to grow bioenergy crops in addition to other existing crop choices.

Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy
Project Funding
Jeffrey Dangl, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Functional Manipulation of Root Endophyte Populations for Feedstock Improvement
Goal: Utilize genomics, genetics, and physiology to understand how endophytic bacteria alter plant growth and productivity, ultimately to manipulate plant performance for feedstock production. A variety of plant functions and traits are co-dependent on the surrounding microbial community, especially those associated with the plant root system (rhizosphere). This project will investigate whether plant performance phenotype in association with microbial communities translates across plant species in a predictable manner.
DOE-BER funded project
Katrien Devos, University of Georgia, Athens Unraveling the Genetics of Two Key Biomass Traits that Differentiate Upland and Lowland Tetraploid Switchgrass Ecotypes, Colonization by Mycorrhizal Fungi, and Frost Tolerance
Goal: Develop strategies for increased frost tolerance of lowland switchgrass through (1) identifying the genetic pathway(s) that provide frost tolerance in upland switchgrass and (2) studying the potential of beneficial fungi to minimize host cold stress. This project seeks to leverage the high biomass yield of southernadapted lowland types and the frost tolerance of northernadapted upland types to identify candidate genes that can be exploited to enhance biomass production of switchgrass under cold stress.
DOE-BER funded project
Yiwei Jiang, Purdue University Genetic Control of Flowering in Switchgrass
Goal: Elucidate the genetic mechanisms and identify candidate genes controlling flowering time in switchgrass. Late-flowering genotypes yield more biomass because the growing season is extended; having a better understanding of the genes that control flowering time will help to develop a rational strategy for creating improved switchgrass lines. The knowledge generated will aid breeding programs in developing late-flowering varieties of switchgrass that fully utilize the growing season and achieve high biomass yield.
DOE-BER funded project
Ray Ming, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Pyramiding Genes and Alleles for Improving Energy Cane Biomass Yield
Goal: Accelerate energy cane breeding and maximize biomass yield by utilizing the extraordinary segregation of true F2 populations to select high biomass–yielding genotypes. Sugarcane cultivars are mostly derived from hybridization between domesticated and wild species followed by backcrossing to recover the high biomass yield and sugar content of the domestic parent while retaining stress tolerance from the wild. Because sugar content is not a limiting factor for energy cane, this project will introduce a new breeding paradigm for more efficient cultivar improvement.
DOE-BER funded project
A. S. N. Reddy, Colorado State University Global Analysis of Epigenetic Regulation of Gene Expression in Response to Drought Stress in Sorghum
Goal: Investigate the impact of drought stress on epigenetic modifications and alternative splicing in sorghum. Using recently developed high-throughput tools, this project will examine genome-wide changes in the chromatin landscape and patterns of alternative splicing in cultivars that are sensitive and tolerant to drought under normal conditions and in response to drought stress. Understanding how plants respond and adapt to drought stress at the molecular level will help in developing plants that can grow under water-limiting conditions.
DOE-BER funded project
Matias Kirst, University of Florida, Gainesville Accelerated Development of Optimal Pine Feedstocks for Bioenergy and Renewable Chemicals Using Genome-Wide Selection
Goal: Hyper-accelerate pine breeding using genome-wide selection, generating cultivars of loblolly and slash pine tailored to produce high energy yields that are ready for deployment. Traditional genetic improvement of pines is logistically complex and expensive, and a single breeding cycle takes almost two decades to complete. Thus, the project will develop and apply new breeding strategies that accelerate development of cultivars suitable for bioenergy production.
USDA-NIFA funded project
Steven Strauss, Oregon State University Structural Polymorphisms as Causes of Heterosis in Populus
Goal: Characterize the extent of structural polymorphisms (SPs) between and within species of Populus that are used to produce wood and bioenergy, and examine their relationship to growth, stress tolerance, and breeding efficiency. This project will study wild black cottonwoods and interspecies hybrids important in plantations in the Pacific Northwest United States and other parts of the world, with a focus on the extent to which assay of SPs could improve hybrid breeding compared to alternative approaches.
USDA-NIFA funded project

The joint USDA and DOE funding program was begun in 2006. DOE’s Office of Science will provide $6.1 million in funding for five projects, while USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will award $2 million to fund two projects. Initial funding will support research projects for up to three years.



They give $8 billion in loan guarantees to fossil projects.

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