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DOE, USDA awarding $12.6M to 10 biomass genomics research projects for improved biofuels

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have selected 10 projects that will receive funding aimed at accelerating genetic breeding programs to improve plant feedstocks for the production of biofuels, biopower, and bio-based products.

The $12.6 million in research grants are awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program that began in 2006 focused on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics, with the aim of harnessing nonfood plant biomass for the production of fuels such as ethanol or renewable chemical feedstocks. Dedicated feedstock crops tend to require less intensive production practices and can grow on poorer quality land than food crops, making this a critical element in a strategy of sustainable biofuels production that avoids competition with crops grown for food.

DOE’s Office of Science will provide $10.6 million in funding for eight 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.

New projects to be funded this year will build upon gains in genetic and genomic resources for bioenergy and biofuels. The projects will accelerate the breeding of optimized dedicated bioenergy feedstocks through a better understanding of complex interactions between bioenergy feedstock plants and their environment, allowing the development of new regionally-adapted bioenergy feedstock cultivars with maximal biomass or seed oil yield and traits leading to more sustainable production systems, such as minimal water usage and nutrient input requirements.

2014 Biomass Genomics Resarch projects
Lead Description Funding
Patrick Brown, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Coordinated Genetic Improvement of Bioenergy Sorghum for Compositional and Agronomic Traits
Goal: Discover and characterize novel genetic variants that affect lignocellulosic composition and saccharification yield in bioenergy feedstock grasses without compromising agronomic performance. This project will characterize genetic variation in compositional and agronomic traits in a panel of 600 diverse sorghum inbreds and identify useful traits and variants that will guide and accelerate the genetic improvement of both bioenergy sorghum and closely related perennial grasses.
DOE-BER funded
Amy Brunner, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Abiotic Stress Networks Converging on FT2 to Control Growth in Populus
Goal: Uncover divergent and convergent regulatory networks that control growth responses to daylength and nutrient stress in poplar. Regulation of growth and dormancy by such seasonal and episodic environmental factors is of central importance to productivity in temperate tree species. This project will characterize genome-wide gene expression changes in response to daylength and nutrient stress and identify protein-protein and protein-DNA networks that are centered on FT2, a key integrator of multiple abiotic signaling pathways in Populus.
DOE-BER funded
Robin Buell, Michigan State University Exploiting Natural Diversity to Identify Alleles and Mechanisms of Cold Adaptation in Switchgrass
Goal: Identify metabolites, alleles, transcripts, and regulatory RNAs associated with cold hardiness in switchgrass that will advance understanding of the biochemical, physiological, and molecular mechanisms for cold adaptation and provide molecular tools to improve breeding efficiency.
USDA-NIFA funded
Luca Comai, University of California, Davis A Novel Poplar Biomass Germplasm Resource for Functional Genomics and Breeding
Goal: Further develop the poplar indel germplasm collection and use it to investigate the role of gene dosage in poplar hybrid performance and contribution to bioenergy traits. This project will catalog dosage variation in ~500 Populus deltoides × P. nigra F1 individuals, use field trials to characterize variation for traits central to sustainable production of biomass with optimal feedstock properties, and identify specific regulatory or functional gene modules underlying phenotypes of interest, ultimately to produce new cultivars directly usable for bioenergy applications.
DOE-BER funded
Maria Harrison, Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research Genetic Dissection of AM Symbiosis to Improve the Sustainability of Feedstock Production
Goal: Understand the genetic bases of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis in feedstocks through studies of a model feedstock species, Brachypodium distachyon, and sorghum, a feedstock species. This project will utilize Brachypodium to evaluate the function of candidate proteins that potentially control development of the symbiosis and symbiotic P and N transport, and then evaluate AM symbiosis in diverse sweet and cellulosic (bioenergy) sorghum lines. This research will inform feedstock breeding programs and enhance the sustainability of feedstock production.
DOE-BER funded
Michael Marks, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis Advancing Field Pennycress as a New Oilseed Biodiesel
Goal: Genetically improve the agronomic traits of field pennycress (Thlaspi arvense L) for its use as a new winter annual oilseed/meal/cover crop in the Upper Midwest.
John McKay, Colorado State University Biofuels in the Arid West: Germplasm Development for Sustainable Production of Camelina Oilseed
Goal: Facilitate the development of Camelina as an oilseed feedstock crop that can be grown on marginal farmland with relatively low fertilizer inputs and no irrigation. Camelina has many optimal qualities as an oilseed feedstock, but its performance as a fuel with minimal processing can be improved. Leveraging the newly available genome sequence of Camelina sativa, this project will use forward and reverse genetics and natural variation to combine optimal qualities in Camelina as an oilseed feedstock for the Great Plains and Western United States.
DOE-BER funded
Todd Mockler, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center The Brachypodium ENCODE Project—From Sequence to Function: Predicting Physiological Responses in Grasses to Facilitate Engineering of Biofuel Crops
Goal: Identify and characterize the functional elements associated with progressive drought response in the Brachypodium distachyon genome sequence and develop integrated genome feature maps that will enable advanced modeling of complex pathways in plants. Using a model grass, the Brachypodium ENCODE (for Encyclopedia of DNA Elements) project will elucidate the molecular mechanisms and gene regulatory networks underlying drought stress, information which will aid basic and applied research on a wide range of bioenergy grasses and accelerate deployment of improved bioenergy grass feedstocks.
DOE-BER funded
John Mullet, Texas A&M University, College Station Genomics of Energy’s Water Use Efficiency / Drought Resilience
Goal: Increase the water use efficiency, drought resilience, and yield of high biomass energy Sorghum and other C4 bioenergy grasses. This project will use field analysis to identify traits and molecular responses that improve water use efficiency and drought resilience of energy Sorghum and characterize genetic variation, and then test the utility of modulating these traits in energy Sorghum hybrids through marker-assisted breeding.
DOE-BER funded
Erik Sacks, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Quantifying Phenotypic and Genetic Diversity of Miscanthus sacchariflorus to Facilitate Knowledge of Directed Improvement of M.×giganteus (M. sinensis × M. sacchariflorus) and Sugarcane
Goal: Facilitate the rapid development of Miscanthus as a bioenergy crop by obtaining fundamental knowledge about M. sacchariflorus (Msa) genetic diversity, population structure, and environmental adaptation. This project will conduct field trials with ~600 individuals of Msa from throughout its natural range to evaluate yield potential and adaptation. It will develop molecular markers associated with traits of interest that will enable plant breeders to quickly develop improved biomass cultivars of M×g as well as the closely related sugarcanes and energycanes.
DOE-BER funded



Just gasify corn stalks and synthesize drop in fuels. You grow the corn anyway, no extra land nor water required.

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