Donald Danforth Plant Science Center heads research aimed at speeding development of bio-energy sorghum

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a not-for-profit research institute based in St. Louis, Missouri, said it has been awarded an $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for work aimed at accelerating the breeding and commercial release of economically viable bio-energy sorghum hybrids.

The grant is being made under the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture (ARPA-E TERRA) program. The principal investigator on the multi-institutional project is Todd Mockler, Geraldine and Robert Virgil Distinguished Investigator at the Danforth Center.

Mockler will lead a team focused on deploying an automated, robust field phenotyping system to deliver baseline crop-trait data of unprecedented quality and quantity, which will speed development of high-yielding bio-energy sorghum.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has forecasted that more than 90 percent of U.S. cellulosic bio-energy needs will be met through biomass production in the South, and sorghum will be a key crop. The new sorghum bio-energy belt will span east Texas, the Mississippi Valley, the Gulf Coast and the southern Atlantic Coast. Sorghum is a drought and heat-tolerant member of the grass family and is grown worldwide. Sorghum’s adaptability to diverse environments and its low fertilizer requirements, high biomass potential and compatibility with row-crop production positions it to become a premier bio-energy crop in the U.S.

Partner institutions on the project are Clemson University, the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Kansas State University, Texas A&M University, the University of Arizona, the University of Illinois and Washington University in St. Louis. Key collaborators include the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the U.S. Arid Land Agricultural Research Center of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service.