Colorado researchers win grant for bioenergy crop engineering

By Colorado State University | December 07, 2012

A Colorado State University team has received a $2 million grant from the U.S. DOE to produce a biological control system for bioenergy crops.

June Medford and Mauricio Antunes, both professors in the biology department, and Ashok Prasad, a professor in chemical and biological engineering, received the grant from Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy, known as ARPA-E, which is the DOE’s advanced research division.

The rising costs of petroleum, combined with its projected shortage in the next few decades, have generated an ever increasing demand for production of fuels from biological sources, or biofuels, Medford said. By 2020, it is estimated that the global market for biofuels trade could reach $520 billion.

“It is imperative that the nation maintain a leadership position in production of alternative fuels and in generating the needed raw material (feedstock) for the biofuels industry,” Medford said. “Substantial improvement to traditional and nontraditional bioenergy crops will come through precise engineering of traits of interest. A key limitation or bottleneck for these bioenergy crop improvements is the ability to rapidly introduce new traits via genetic transformation.”

The CSU team is experts in synthetic biology, particularly that of plants. Their work was chosen from more than 4,000 submissions and is viewed as transformational to the field of bioenergy.

Antunes said the work will develop technology that allows rapid and precise improvement of bioenergy crops.

“While our work has specific near-term goals for bioenergy crops, our regulatory genetic circuits could also find application for biofuels, biomanufacturing and bioengineering, allowing the U.S. to retain technological lead in renewable energy,” Medford said.