USDA, DOE give $8 million for energy crop research

By Anna Simet | December 17, 2013

Seven projects focused on biomass genomics research will receive a total of $8 million from the U.S. DOE and USDA to study energy crops including switchgrass, energy cane, sorghum and pine and populus trees.

The USDA and DOE designed the program, which began in 2006, to improve biomass crops through breeding and other strategies using advanced modern genomics techniques. Focuses include increasing yields, quality and ability to adapt to extreme environments.

The DOE’s Office of Science is providing $6.1 million over the next three years for the following five projects: 

“Functional Manipulation of Root Endophyte Populations for Feedstock Improvement” by the University of North Carolina, which received $1.54 million to utilize genomics, genetics, and physiology to understand how endophytic bacteria alter plant growth and productivity, ultimately to manipulate plant performance for feedstock production. Researchers will investigate whether plant performance phenotype in association with microbial communities translates across plant species in a predictable manner.

“Unraveling the Genetics of Two Key Biomass Traits that Differentiate Upland and Lowland Tetraploid Switchgrass Ecotypes, Colonization by Mycorrhizal Fungi, and Frost Tolerance” at the University of Georgia, which received $1.3 million. The project will focus on developing strategies for increased frost tolerance of lowland switchgrass through identifying the genetic pathways that provide frost tolerance in upland switchgrass and studying the potential of beneficial fungi to minimize host cold stress.

“Genetic Control of Flowering in Switchgrass” at Purdue University, which received $850,000. This goal of this project is to elucidate the genetic mechanisms and identify candidate genes controlling flowering time in switchgrass and gain a better understanding of genes that control flowering to help develop a rational strategy for creating improved switchgrass lines.

“Pyramiding Genes and Alleles for Improving Energy Cane Biomass Yield” at the University of Illinois, which received nearly $1 million to accelerate energy cane breeding and maximize biomass yield by utilizing the extraordinary segregation of true F2 populations to select high biomass–yielding genotypes. This project is intended to introduce a new breeding paradigm for more efficient cultivar improvement.

“Global Analysis of Epigenetic Regulation of Gene Expression in Response to Drought Stress in Sorghum” at Colorado State University, which received $1.38 million to investigate the impact of drought stress on epigenetic modifications and alternative splicing in sorghum. Using recently developed high-throughput tools, this project will examine genome-wide changes in the chromatin landscape and patterns of alternative splicing in cultivars that are sensitive and tolerant to drought under normal conditions and in response to drought stress.



The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is awarded $2 million to the following projects:

“Accelerated Development of Optimal Pine Feedstocks for Bioenergy and Renewable Chemicals Using Genome-Wide Selection” at the University of Florida, which received $1 million to hyper-accelerate pine breeding using genome-wide selection, generating cultivars of loblolly and slash pine tailored to produce high energy yields that are ready for deployment. This project will develop and apply new breeding strategies that accelerate development of cultivars suitable for bioenergy production.

“Structural Polymorphisms as Causes of Heterosis in Populus” at Oregon State University, which received $1 million. The project’s goal is to characterize the extent of structural polymorphisms (SPs) between and within species of populus that are used to produce wood and bioenergy, and examine their relationship to growth, stress tolerance, and breeding efficiency. This project will study wild black cottonwoods and interspecies hybrids important in plantations in the Pacific Northwest U.S. and other parts of the world, with a focus on the extent to which assay of SPs could improve hybrid breeding compared to alternative approaches.