University of Texas researcher gets $15 million for two switchgrass biofuel studies

In Texas, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin will receive two grants totaling $15 million to study a native prairie grass, including how it can become a sustainable source of bioenergy amid global climate change.

Tom Juenger, a professor of integrative biology, will lead scientists from multiple institutions — including federal agencies, universities and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology — on two projects researching switchgrass. A five-year grant from the Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research will provide $11 million for the university and $4 million for partner institutions. Additionally, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a four-year grant of $4 million to Juenger and his team. Both grants begin this fall.

On the larger of the two projects, researchers will collect and sequence the genes of hundreds of switchgrass samples to study how genes and a host of environmental factors — including the soil, bacterial communities that live on the plant and in the soil, weather and the size and growth rate of each plant — affect the plant and its potential as a biofuel. Understanding how different factors affect one another ultimately will provide insights into basic plant biology and allow scientists to identify ways to improve switchgrass as an alternative energy source.

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