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Danforth Center Leads $12M DOE Bioenergy Study

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A research group led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis will use a $12.1 million grant from the US Department of Energy to conduct genomics-driven research to develop and improve a grass that could be an important bioenergy crop.

The project, involving partners at Carnegie Institution for Science, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, the University of Minnesota, and Washington State University plan to study genetic and molecular characteristics that are linked to drought response and may be used to improve the yield of Setaria viridis.

“What we learn in improving bioenergy grasses in many cases can also be applied to cereal crops to improve their productivity. Setaria viridis, the model species that will be used as the focus of our research, is closely related to corn and Brachypodium, another model grass of interest at the Danforth Center that has a genetic makeup similar to wheat,” explained Tom Brutnell, director of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Danforth Center and lead investigator on the grant, in a statement this week.

The collaborators will apply genomic, computational, and engineering tools to create a molecular characterization of S. viridis in the hopes of discovering mechanisms that underlie the plant's drought response, and to identify genes that could be used to improve other related feedstock grasses.

Drought is the most common stress on crops that limits their yield, and the threat of climate change in the future makes it a greater concern, according to Danforth.

The partners will study the S. viridis genome as a genetic model for other grasses, and will seek to define transcriptional and metabolic networks involved in regulating its growth under drought and high-density conditions.

They plan to conduct quantitative trait locus mapping measuring flowering times, plant height, and biomass yield under controlled and stressed conditions. They also will capture physiological, transcriptomic, and ionomic datasets for measuring traits; will construct metabolic networks and develop genetic techniques for studying the grass, such as using site-specific recombination; and will develop marker lines for understanding root development during drought. According to Danforth, this project will create a comprehensive dataset for S. viridis that will drive its adoption for use in bioenergy.