Switchgrass research projects awarded grant money

By Holly Jessen | October 23, 2015

Researchers have received grants from the U.S. DOE and National Science Foundation to study switchgrass.

Jeremy Schmutz, faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and co-director of the Genome Sequencing Center, will analyze how switchgrass, through natural genetic mechanisms, adapts to its local environment in two separate but related studies. DOE has committed $1.2 million over five years and the National Science Foundation $602,154 over four years, according to HudsonAlpha press releases.

The project receiving DOE funding will be contributed to by 11 researchers from seven institutes. In all, the DOE’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research awarded $15 million. Tom Juenger of the University of Texas at Austin will lead the project to collect and sequence switchgrass genes, studying how genes and environmental factors, affect the plant and its potential as a biofuel. Genomically identical switchgrass planted in 14 sites across North America will be compared for the projects. “This project will be one of the largest common garden experiments that’s been done in the public sphere,” Schmutz said.

Other investigators include Tanja Wolke at the DOE Joint Genome Institute; Felix Fritschi and Alina Zare from the University of Missouri in Columbia; Laura Bartley from University of Oklahoma; Julie Jastrow, Sarah O’Brien, and Roser Matamala from the Argonne National Laboratory; Damon Waitt from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; and Denise Costich from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

The project receiving National Science Foundation funding is also led by Juenger and involves growing plants with shuffled genomes from four different switchgrass varieties in 10 different locations. “We want to know how the plant regulates its response to rainfall and water availability,” Schmutz said. “We’re looking for the molecular mechanisms that allow the plant to adapt year after year.”

Other investigators include Phil Fay and Tim Keith from the University of Texas at Austin and David Lowry from Michigan State University.