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US Departments of Energy and Agriculture Provide $8.3 Million in Funding for Biofuels Genomics Research

The US Departments of Energy and Agriculture have jointly selected 11 projects for awards totaling $8.3 million for research that will accelerate the development of alternative biofuel resources.

These awards continue a commitment begun in 2006 to conduct fundamental research in biomass genomics that will provide the scientific foundation to facilitate and accelerate the use of woody plant tissue for bioenergy and biofuels. Then, the two agencies awarded nearly $17.5 million to 17 biomass research, development and demonstration projects. (Earlier post.) 

The awards will be made through the Office of Biological and Environmental Research (OBER) in DOE’s Office of Science (SC), and USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) National Research Initiative (NRI).  In this second year of the program, new research projects on cordgrass, rice, switchgrass, sorghum, poplar, and perennial grasses join the portfolio of research on poplar, alfalfa, sorghum, and wheat.

Starting in 2007, DOE will provide $5.5 million in funding for seven projects, while USDA will award more than $1.5 million to fund three projects; one project will receive $1.3 million in joint funding from both agencies.  Initial funding will support research projects for up to three years.

USDA-DOE Biofuel Grant Recipients (by grant value)
Organization Grant Purpose
Mississippi State University $1,300,000 “Identification of Cell Wall Synthesis Regulatory Genes Controlling Biomass Characteristics and Yield in Rice (Oryza sativa)” This project will examine cell wall synthesis in rice, a model grass bioenergy species and the source of rice stover residues, using reverse genetic and functional genomic and proteomic approaches.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University $1,200,000 “Towards a Map of the Populus Biomass Protein-Protein Interaction Network” This project will map protein-protein interactions relevant to biomass production by focusing on proteins coexpressed in poplar xylem, the site of the majority of lignocellulose synthesis and hence biomass accumulation in poplar.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory $1,040,000 “A Functional Genomics Approach to Altering Crown Architecture in Populus: Maximizing Carbon Capture in Trees Grown in Dense Plantings” This project seeks to gain a molecular understanding of phytochrome-mediated responses to competition in Populus and then use that knowledge to maximize carbon capture per unit land area for increased biomass production.
University of Florida $750,000 “Development of Brown Midrib Sweet Sorghum as a Dual-Source Feedstock for Ethanol Production” This project seeks to maximize the amount of fermentable sugar in the whole sorghum plant, by identification and isolation of the genes that control the high stalk juice sugar trait and a decreased stalk lignin trait, with an eventual aim to combine both traits in a single germplasm.
University of Minnesota $715,000 “Strategies for Using Molecular Markers to Simultaneously Improve Corn Grain Yield  and Stover Quality for Ethanol Production” This project seeks to optimize the use of DNA markers to simultaneously breed for high corn grain yield (for non-energy and energy uses) and high stover quality for ethanol production.
USDA-ARS (Cornell University) $700,000 “Developing Association Mapping in Polyploid Perennial Biofuel Grasses” This project will undertake an association-mapping study of two important biofuel grasses, switchgrass and reed canarygrass, to identify molecular markers that are tightly linked to biomass-related trait loci, thus enabling marker assisted selection and greatly accelerating the breeding programs for enhanced biomass production.
USDA-ARS Western Regional Research Center (Albany, CA) $600,000 “Linkage Analysis Appropriate for Comparative Genome Analysis and Trait Selection in Switchgrass” This project will create a comprehensive marker set for switchgrass based principally on simple sequence repeats (SSR), and initiate development of a linkage map.
USDA-ARS Western Regional Research Center (Albany, CA) $600,000 “Insertional Mutagenesis of Brachypodium distachyon This project will create a collection of insertional mutants in Brachypodium distachyon (Purple False Brome, a grass). This resource collection can then be used to identify mutations in genes predicted to affect biomass quality and agronomic characteristics of other perennial grass energy crops.
University of Delaware $600,000 “Analysis of Small RNAs and miRNAs Associated with Abiotic Stress Responses in Brachypodium distachyon This project will identify small RNAs related to stresses such as drought, temperature, and nutrient deprivation, and relate them to the emerging genome sequence of Brachypodium distachyon, thus enhancing its value as a functional genomic model for energy crops and temperate grasses.
South Dakota State University $420,000 “Development of Genomic Tools to Improve of Prairie Cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), a Highly Productive Bioenergy Feedstock Crop” This project will develop PCR markers for this species and to construct an initial linkage map for Prairie cordgrass, a native perennial high-biomass yielding grass.
University of Georgia $400,000 “Resource Development in Switchgrass, An Important Bioenergy Crop for the USA” This project will construct a simple sequence repeat (SSR)-based detailed genetic map of switchgrass, and align it with maps produced in rice, maize and sorghum. This will allow the exploitation in switchgrass of resources and sequence information generated for these well-studied cereals. The genetic maps will also serve as a framework to locate genes controlling bioenergy traits.

Additional information on the individual research projects and the joint program is available on the Genomics:GTL website.



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