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USDA, DOE Partner to Fund Biofuel Genomics Research

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture is pumping $8.9 million into a new set of research programs that will use genomics and systems biology to improve upon and develop ways to get bioenergy from nonfood fibers in plants.

The DOE-USDA Plant Feedstocks Genomics for Bioenergy research program in 2010, which was announced on Thursday, is funding research that seeks to enhance productivity, yield, water and nutrient efficiency, and the sustainability of plant feedstocks.

The research will focus on studying the core plant processes that control cell wall composition, plant architecture, cell size and division, wood formation, carbon allocation, and the impact of temperature and water availability.

"By harnessing the power of science and technology, this joint effort between DOE and USDA will help accelerate research in the critical area of plant feedstocks, spurring the creation of the domestic bio-industry while creating jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil," DOE Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

This grant program emphasizes perennials, including trees and other nonfood plants that require less intensive production practices than food crops and are able to grow on low quality land.

"Combining DOE's leadership in genome-scale technologies with USDA's long experience in crop improvement will help accelerate development of such specialized crops and improve their effectiveness as feedstocks for biofuel production," the agencies said jointly.

DOE plans to provide $7 million and USDA will award $2 million under these three-year grants.

This round of grants include:

• A grant of $870,000 to the University of Delaware for research that aims to identify targets of microRNAs in the grass Brachypodium, switchgrass, Miscanthus, and sorghum and should enhance understanding of these plants' regulatory networks;

• $1.3 million to the University of Georgia to study hubs in gene and metabolite networks that regulate carbon use in the wood-forming tissues of Populus;

• $1.2 million to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which will use the funds to study the role of small RNA molecules involvement in Miscanthus species and other biomass crops including switchgrass and prairie cordgrass;

• $735,000 to the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research to fund research to understand the molecular and physiological mechanisms by which interactions with bacterial endophytes promotes growth in the promising bioenergy crop switchgrass;

• $1 million to identify the genetic and biochemical basis for increasing yield and improving the composition of high-biomass sorghum in order to understand genes that can be used to improve energy sorghum and other bioenergy grasses;

• $793,000 to the University of California, Berkeley, to identify and characterize the genes in Maize involved in cell wall variation that can be used to improve biorefinery feedstocks;

• $1 million to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to analyze the changes in a gene system in sorghum to discover if it can be used to convert superior sorghum grain hybrids for enhanced bioenergy production;

• $950,000 to the USDA Agricultural Research Service Western Regional Research Center to generate mutants for Brachypodium distachyon and to sequence DNA flanking and insertion sites in order to create sets of data that can be used to determine the function of specific genes.

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