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Plant Biologists Lead Biobased-fuel Research Projects

Tue, 09/14/2010 - 12:23pm
EurekAlert

ROCKVILLE, Md. - Members of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) are helping solve the nation's energy challenges through fundamental research into biofuels. All nine Plant Feedstocks Genomics for Bioenergy awards recently announced by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) were given to projects with ASPB members as key research personnel, including serving as principal investigator.

This DOE/USDA research program supports fundamental genomics investigations to enhance the use of plants as potential sources of fuels. Each of the projects will explore ways that the generally inedible portions of plants-the lignocellulosic biomass-can be used to produce biofuels. Projects funded this year will aim to enhance productivity, yield, nutrient and water utilization, and sustainability of plants as sources of biofuels. To meet these goals, researchers will seek to improve basic understanding of the way plants are structured, how they take up and use nutrients, and the impact of temperature and water.

A total of $8.9 million has been awarded to nine research teams:

  • ASPB member Pamela J. Green (University of Delaware) will identify the targets of a set of regulatory molecules known as microRNAs to enhance understanding of regulatory networks, which may suggest strategies for improving bioenergy crops.
  • Scott Harding and ASPB member ChungJui Tsai (University of Georgia) will explore how proteins which transport the sugar sucrose within plants impact the storage and use of sucrose in developing wood.
  • ASPB members Matthew Hudson, Magdy Alabady, and Stephen Moose (Energy Bioscience Institute, University of Illinois) will investigate the role of small RNA molecules involved in regulating the size, shape, and composition of biofuel crops and the synthesis of cellulose and lignin in biofuels crops including Miscanthus, switchgrass, and prairie cordgrass.
  • ASPB members Chuansheng Mei and Barry Flinn (Institute for Advanced Learning and Research), in collaboration with John Seiler and Jerzy Nowak (Virginia Tech), will seek to study the mechanisms by which associated bacterial endophytes promote switchgrass growth and enhance stress tolerance as a step toward developing a low input and sustainable switchgrass feedstock production system.
  • ASPB members Stephen Moose, Patrick Brown (University of Illinois), and Max Moehs (Arcadia Biosciences) will investigate whether a particular gene system can be used to convert superior sorghum grain hybrids to cultivars enhanced for bioenergy production.
  • John Mullet, William Rooney, and ASPB member Patricia Klein (Texas A&M University) will identify the genetic and biochemical basis for increasing yield and improving the composition of high yielding energy crops such as energy sorghum, which would decrease the acreage required for biomass production.
  • ASPB members Markus Pauly (University of California, Berkeley) and Sarah Hake (USDA Agricultural Research Service Plant Gene Expression Center) will explore the vast genetic diversity of maize to identify and genetically characterize lines whose lignocellulosics yield higher amounts of sugars that can be used for bioenergy production.
  • ASPB member Gary Stacey, Jianlin Jack Cheng, and Dong Xu (University of Missouri), in collaboration with David Koppenaal and Ljiljana Paša-Tolić (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) will use the soybean root hair cell system as a model to explore the response of plant roots to heat and drought, which will provide insight on the impacts of changing climate on plants.
  • ASPB member John Vogel, Yong Gu, Gerard Lazo, and Olin Anderson (USDA Agricultural Research Service Western Regional Research Center) will generate a collection of model grass plants in which known genes are made inoperative in order to enable researchers to quickly determine the function of genes of interest.

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