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No Boredom for Sorghum – Sorghum Reaches Stardom Status with Huge $16 Million Grant

Submitted by on October 9, 2017 – 12:51 pmNo Comment

by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest)  Sweet sorghum stardom! In possibly one of the largest government grants given to anyone for research on a single feedstock, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is receiving a 5-year $16 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for research on the model grass green foxtail (Setaria viridis), to speed up the development of energy sorghum varieties for production under not so great environments.

But that’s not the only exciting news – NexSteppe shared their vision and plans for sorghum stardom with the Digest over the weekend.

Sorghum stardom scoop

So why is sorghum so hip and happening right now? The Danforth Center helps us count the ways:

  1. Sorghum is a member of the grass family and is grown worldwide.
  2. Sorghum is very resilient to drought and heat stress.
  3. Natural genetic diversity in sorghum makes it a promising system for identifying stress-resistance mechanisms in grasses that may have been lost during the domestication of related cereal crops.
  4. It is among the most efficient crops in conversion of solar energy and use of water, making it an ideal crop to target for improvement.

This explains why earlier this summer, the Danforth Center told Sorghum Growers that their lab is moving its focus almost entirely to sorghum and turning the attention of approximately 23 other research scientists to the crop, as well as a full-time sorghum breeder.

Building on Danforth’s earlier research using the model grass, green foxtail (Setaria viridis), this project will identify new genes and pathways that contribute to photosynthesis and enhanced water use efficiency. The team will then deploy these genes using tools of the emerging field of synthetic biology to accelerate development of elite energy sorghum varieties for production under marginal environments.

This project aims to deliver stress-tolerant sorghum lines, addressing DOE’s mission in the generation of renewable energy resources. Danforth’s press release states that the development of a low input, environmentally safe and highly productive sorghum germplasm will help establish a lignocellulosic energy economy that can provide jobs to rural communities, ensure energy security and benefit the environment.

The project includes a multi-disciplinary team with expertise ranging from plant physiology, genetics, molecular biology, informatics, computational biology and genetic engineering from scientists at Washington State University, Carnegie Institution for Science, University of Rhode Island, University of Illinois, University of Minnesota and the United States Department of Agriculture.

NexSteppe’s President and CEO, Anna Rath, told the Digest over the weekend that they have big plans for sorghum as well.

Rath told the Digest that they had their “first large scale commercial plantings of Palo Alto in China this year aimed at the combination of land remediation and production of a feedstock for biomass power. Those fields will be harvested in the coming weeks and the biomass will be burned for production of biomass power.” She also told the Digest that sales are going well of their Metano Alto in Germany and Italy this year for bioga as well as sales of Palo Alto for biomass power in Italy.

As if that’s not enough excitement, Rath also told the Digest that “In South America, in addition to continuing sales of Palo Alto for biomass power in Brazil, we expect to see sales of Malibu for production of ethanol and Metano Alto for biogas and expect to see our first sales in Paraguay and Argentina.”

Check out the Digest’s Multi-Slide Guide to NexSteppe.  READ MORE



Danforth Center looks to the future of ethanol on a hot planet (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

$16 million invested into sorghum bioenergy project (Bioenergy Insight)

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