Danforth Center Awarded $16MM to Enhance Sorghum for Bioenergy

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The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, one of the world’s largest independent plant science institutes, has been awarded a $16 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

About The Project

Building on existing research into the genetic properties of grass (green foxtail – Setaria viridis), the grant awarded project plans to identify new genes and pathways that contribute to photosynthesis and enhanced water use efficiency.

The project addresses DOE’s mission in the generation of renewable energy resources by creating sorghum seed types that can survive in harsher environmental conditions, such that bioenergy sources can be grown in land that could not be otherwise be used for growing food.

“Understanding the network of genes involved in photosynthesis and drought tolerance will provide targets for plant breeders and genetic engineers to re-design sorghum specifically as a high value bioenergy feedstock to be grown on marginal soils and thus not compete with food crops,” said lead principal investigator, Thomas Brutnell, Ph.D., director of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Danforth Center.

Why Sorghum?

Sorghum is a type of grass that is particularly resilient to drought and heat stress. Biologically speaking, it is among the most efficient crops in conversion of solar energy and use of water. Natural genetic diversity in sorghum makes it a promising system for identifying stress-resistance mechanisms in grasses, making it an ideal crop to target for improvement.

“Sorghum is an attractive bioenergy feedstock supported by well-developed breeding and seed industry,” said co-principal investigator on the grant, Todd Mockler, Ph.D., Geraldine and Robert Virgil Distinguished Investigator at the Danforth Center. “This project will leverage recent investments by DOE to further accelerate sorghum feedstock enhancements, develop new gene editing and transformation technologies and conduct a whole genome association study to identify genes to improve sorghum productivity.”

The development of highly productive and environmentally safe sorghum seeds could help establish a biofuel energy economy that can provide jobs to rural communities, ensure energy security and benefit the environment.