Colorado State University researchers are aiding the U.S. government in its quest to develop non-food crops that can be converted in bioenergy. Anireddy Reddy, professor of Biology, recently received a $1.38 million federal grant to study how different varieties of sorghum react to drought and identify specific genes that may enable the grass to withstand a lack of water.
His project is one of seven funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the agencies’ joint plant biomass genomics initiative.
“It paves the way to creating drought-resistant grasses and trees for bioenergy,” Reddy said.
No more corn
Not long ago, corn-based ethanol was the biofuel of choice in the United States.But as more and more growers began planting corn for fuel, many worried about the impact on the nation’s food supply.
Since then, the focus has shifted to preserving the most fertile soil for food crops and harvesting the leftover leaves and stalks for biofuel and developing new strains of sorghum, switchgrass and certain trees that can grow in poor soil and need little water.
“The goal is to plant these feedstocks on marginal lands and in climates that aren’t suitable to grow food so they don’t compete with one another,” Reddy said.
But to do that, researchers need to better understand these potential bioenergy sources so they can be bred to grow in harsh conditions.
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Sorghum is one of the best drought-adapted plants. There also are natural variations of sorghum cultivars that are tolerant or susceptible to drought, making the grass easier to test.
Reddy and his team will be using some of these cultivars to analyze the impact of drought stress on all genes at multiple levels.