$16 million invested into sorghum bioenergy project

One of the world’s largest plant science research institutes has received a five year, $16 million (€13.6 million) grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to enhance the use of sorghum for bioenergy.

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre will use the funding to build on earlier research using the model grass, green foxtail (Setaria viridis). The latest project will aim to identify new genes and pathways that can contribute to photosynthesis and enhanced use efficiency. The researchers will deploy these genes using tools of the emerging field of synthetic biology to accelerate development of elite energy sorghum varieties for production under marginal environments.

“Understanding the network of genes involved in photosynthesis and drought tolerance will provide targets for plant breeders and genetic engineers to re-design sorghum specifically as a high value bioenergy feedstock to be grown on marginal soils and thus not compete with food crops,” said lead principal investigator Thomas Brutnell, director of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Danforth Center.

The aim of the project is to deliver stress-tolerant sorghum lines, addressing DOE’s mission in the generation of renewable energy resources. According to a statement from the Donald Danforth Centre, the development of a low input, environmentally safe and highly productive sorghum germplasm will help establish a lignocellulosic energy economy that can provide jobs to rural communities, ensure energy security and benefit the environment.

“Sorghum is an attractive bioenergy feedstock supported by well-developed breeding and seed industry,” said co-principal investigator on the grant, Todd Mockler, Geraldine and Robert Virgil Distinguished Investigator at the Danforth Center. “This project will leverage recent investments by DOE to further accelerate sorghum feedstock enhancements, develop new gene editing and transformation technologies and conduct a whole genome association study to identify genes to improve sorghum productivity.”

A member of the grass family, Sorghum is grown worldwide and very resilient to drought and heat stress. Natural genetic diversity in sorghum makes it a promising system for identifying stress-resistance mechanisms in grasses that may have been lost during the domestication of related cereal crops.

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