News Energy Biosciences Institute Researchers To Get $2.9 Million in Federal Grants

Three investigators at the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) in Berkeley and Illinois have received grants in an $8.9 million federal program to improve and accelerate genetic breeding programs to create better plants suited for bioenergy production.

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Energy (DOE) announced nine grant recipients in their joint Plant Feedstocks Genomics for Bioenergy Program. Among them were two University of Illinois associate professors in crop sciences, Stephen Moose and Matthew Hudson, and UC Berkeley plant sciences associate professor Markus Pauly.

Moose, who heads the EBI program “Genomics-Enabled Improvement of Andropogoneae Grasses as Feedstocks for Enhanced Biofuel Production,” will receive $1 million from the USDA for the project “Functional Analysis of Regulatory Networks Linking Shoot Maturation, Stem Carbon Partitioning, and Nutrient Utilization in Sorghum.” He will be specifically studying the “Glossy15” gene system and whether this gene can be used to convert superior sorghum grain hybrids to cultivars enhanced for bioenergy production.

Hudson, who is Moose’s co-principal investigator in the EBI program, will get $1,165,900 in funding from the DOE for the project “The Role of Small RNA in Biomass Deposition and Perenniality in Andropogoneae Feedstocks.” He will investigate the role of small RNA molecules, critical in the transfer of function and information from the gene to the rest of the cell, in biomass production and their importance in the regulation
of cellulose and lignin biosynthesis. His main focus will be the promising biofuel feedstocks Miscanthus, switchgrass and cordgrass.

Pauly’s program for the EBI in Berkeley is focused on “Understanding Plant Cell Wall Structure and Metabolism on a Nanostructural Level.” His DOE grant of $793,413 is for work on “Identification and Genetic Characterization of Maize Cell-Wall Variation for Improved Biorefinery Feedstock Characteristics.” He will study lines of maize (corn) with higher yields of fermentable sugars, and in particular the stover – portions of the corn plant that remain after removal of the grain.

The funding will support these research projects for up to three years. The DOE-USDA effort encourages fundamental investigations of biomass genomics to harness lignocellulosic materials for biofuel production. The emphasis is on perennials, including trees and other non-food plants that can be used as dedicated, sustainable biofuel crops.

The nine projects funded this year aim at enhancing productivity, yield, nutrient and water utilization. Research focuses on better understanding of basic plant processes that control cell wall composition, plant architecture, cell size and division, wood formation, nutrient uptake, carbon allocation, and on the impact of temperature and water availability.

The Energy Biosciences Institute is the world’s largest public/private consortium dedicated to researching all aspects of bioenergy. Its partners – BP, the global energy company that has committed $500 million to support the 10-year program; the University of California, Berkeley; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – are exploring the applications of biological processes, materials and mechanisms to the energy sector, especially alternative transportation fuels.

Now in its third year, the EBI has funded 68 programs and projects. More than 300 researchers are engaged in the search for affordable, sustainable, renewable sources of energy.

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Contacts:
Markus Pauly, Stephen Moose, Matthew Hudson, Ron Kolb


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