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DOE, USDA Grant $6.3M for Biofuel Studies

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Seven research teams at institutions around the country will use $6.3 million from the US Government to run genomics studies of plant feedstocks for biofuel production using switchgrass, sorghum, alfalfa, and others.

The Department of Energy and Department of Agriculture have granted the awards aimed at developing new feedstocks and biofuel-related plant technologies that could be used to "further the Obama Administration's efforts to broaden the nation's energy portfolio while decreasing our dependence on foreign oil," DOE said on Wednesday.

Under the Biomass Genomics Research program, DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research has granted $4 million for four projects, while USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service's National Research Initiative granted $2.2 million for three projects. The initial funding will last up to three years.

"These projects will help us unlock the true potential of advanced biofuels, decrease our dependence on foreign oil, and create new jobs and a thriving biofuels industry in America," DOE Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

"Helping expand and diversify production of biofuels is an example of the Obama Administration's commitment to developing a sustainable domestic biofuels industry that can help strengthen rural America while decreasing our dependence on foreign oil," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack added.

The over-arching goal of these grants is to develop or facilitate the use of lignocellulosic crop plants that are less invasive to produce and which can grow on poorer quality land than other food crops.

Andrew Paterson of the University of Georgia will use $1.2 million to acquire genomics tools and resources to study the Miscanthus genome and genome structure, and to develop new strategies and bioinformatic approaches to understanding the plant, in efforts to domesticate the grass for biofuel production.

USDA-ARS-Lincoln principal investigator Gautam Sarath will use $1.2 million to study molecular events in switchgrass that are linked to winter survival in an effort to improve the grass as a bioenergy crop.

John Vogel of the USDA-ARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany, California, will use $1.3 million to conduct high-throughput phenotypic analysis aimed at understanding variation of the model grass Brachypodium.

Matias Kirst of the University of Florida will use $643,000 to characterize genes that regulate the balance of carbon going to cellulosics or lignin, leading to the development of plant materials that are more suitable for biofuel production.

Victor Busov of Michigan Technological University will use $900,000 to identify key regulators of root architecture in relation to nitrogen and water use in Populus, a bioenergy crop.

Charles Brummer of the University of Georgia will use $705,000 to study molecular markers associated with optimal biofuel characteristics in alfalfa and to integrate them into alfalfa breeding programs.

Ismael Dweikat at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, will use $390,000 to identify alleles in wild sorghum germplasm that can be used to improve the plant's nitrogen efficiency.

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