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DOE, USDA Award $12.2M for Biofuel Genomics

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Departments of Energy and Agriculture have just pumped $12.2 million into new research projects that will use genomics and other approaches to find ways to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of biofuel and bioenergy crops.

Under the joint program, the DOE will provide $10.2 million and USDA will award $2 million over three years to ten recipients of the 2011 round of biomass genomics research projects.

The research projects are aimed at improving biofuel crops including switchgrass, poplar, Miscanthus, and Brachybodium, and other plants, by increasing their yield, quality, and adaptability to extreme environments.

The researchers will seek to elucidate gene and protein regulation in certain plants, develop new technologies for analyzing and manipulating cell wall structure and composition, identify genetic markers enabling more efficient plant breeding, and enhance knowledge of the structure and function of plant genomes.

"USDA is helping our nation develop the next generation of biofuels to grow jobs and generate energy from new, homegrown sources," added USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Combining DOE's leadership in genome-scale technologies with USDA's experience in crop improvement will accelerate the efficient production of biofuels."

The research projects funded include grants awarded to:

• The University of Oklahoma, Norman, to identify genetic variations in switchgrass that correlate with the lignocellulose-to-biofuel conversion qualities;

• Virginia Polytechnic and State University to identify interactions between proteins in poplar that will be used to develop trees with superior biomass feedstock potential;

• The University of Missouri to improve sucrose accumulation in sweet sorghum and to identify genes in the plant that are involved in carbon partitioning;

• The University of California, Davis to provide genomic tools for poplar breeders that can be used to identify germplasm with unique genotypes and increased biomass yields;

• The University of Southern California to build the germplasm, breeding, and genetic and genomic foundations needed to make sorghum an optimal bioenergy feedstock;

• Colorado State University to discover genes involved in controlling biomass productivity in switchgrass;

• The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis to identify genes involved in light perception and signaling in the Brachypodium distachyon grass, which could be used to breed better bioenergy crops;

• The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign for identifying molecular markers associated with traits that could be used to improve miscanthus breeding methods;

• The University of Florida to identify genetic components that contribute to increased biomass production in energy cane;

• Kansas State University to integrate genomics-assisted approaches into biomass sorghum research and understanding the genotype-phenotype relationship to improve breeding.

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