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DOE, USDA Pump $12.6M into Bioenergy, Feedstock Genomics Projects

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy said today they have awarded $12.6 million for 10 research projects in 10 states that will use genomics approaches to improve biomass feedstocks for use in biofuels, biopower, and other similar products.

The projects were funded through the Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy initiative, which launched in 2006 and aims to fund research to characterize genes, proteins, and molecular interactions that affect biomass production. The larger goal is to improve biomass yield, sustainability, and water and nitrogen efficiency; better understand carbon partitioning and nutrient cycling in feedstocks; improve knowledge about feedstock plant genomes; and improve plant breeding and traits.

This round of funding includes $10.6 million from DOE's Office of Science to fund eight of the projects, and $2 million from USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture for two others.

"This advanced research is helping us to lay the groundwork for biomass as an important part of the low-carbon future," Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said in a statement.

The research projects funded in this round will build upon genetic and genomic resources for bioenergy and biofuels, accelerate feedstock breeding, and enable scientists to develop regionally-adapted feedstock cultivars that yield the most biomass or seed oil, or which require less water and nutrients.

One international project, led by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, will receive $1.5 million for a next-generation sequencing effort focused on finding molecular markers in Miscanthus xgiganteus, a bioenergy crop naturally found in central and eastern Asia, which could be used to breed varieties that are well adapted to US environments.

Another project involving researchers at IU-Champaign and at the University of California, Berkeley, will receive $1.3 million to discover and characterize novel genetic variants that affect lignocellulosic composition and could be used to improve sorghum and other feedstock grasses.

A team at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University will use $1.4 million to study protein-protein and protein-DNA interactions to better understand abiotic stress in woody feedstocks such as Populus.

Other institutions that will lead genomics projects under the USDA and DOE grants include the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research; Colorado State University; the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center; Texas A&M University; the University of California, Davis; Michigan State University; and the University of Minnesota.