ST. LOUIS – The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a five-year, $12.1 million grant to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a nonprofit research center in St. Louis, to help develop drought-resistant grasses that can be used for biofuel.
With water supplies diminishing and global temperatures rising, grasses provide an attractive alternative to biofuel crops such as corn. Grasses can grow on more rugged terrain, use less energy to grow and require fewer inputs.
The project will use the Setaria viridis grass as its model species. S. viridis is genetically similar to corn and other biofuel feedstocks, making it a good candidate for a second generation biofuel crop.
S. viridis will undergo one of the most extensive molecular characterizations of plant growth in the field to analyze its genetic code and physiological characteristics. Tom Brutnell, the principal investigator on the grant project, and his colleagues at the Danforth center hope to discover the mechanisms that underlie drought responses in the species and identify candidate genes and pathways for improving the closely related feedstock grasses.
That data can then be used to help create “improved varieties” of S. viridis that can maximize water use and produce large yields which can be converted into biofuel.
The Danforth center will collaborate with the Carnegie Institution for Science, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, the University of Minnesota and Washington State University on the project.