In Missouri, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center announced it was awarded an $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy ARPA–E TERRA program. Funds will be used for research to accelerate breeding and the commercial release of economically viable bioenergy sorghum hybrids. Todd Mockler, Ph.D., Geraldine and Robert Virgil Distinguished Investigator at the Danforth Center is the principal investigator of this multi-institutional project.
Along with its research partners, the Danforth Center will utilize a state-of-the-art, gantry-based plant phenotyping system for high-resolution imaging of entire crop plots grown under field conditions at a University of Arizona research center. The team will also conduct genomic analyses on sorghum and will integrate phenotype and genomic results to create a high-quality reference dataset of energy sorghum’s physical characteristics and genomic information.
Precision phenotyping will also be conducted in the Danforth Center’s Bellwether Plant Phenotyping Facility. The Mockler team and other Danforth Center scientists have developed advanced software tools, plant image acquisition protocols, data analysis methods and benchmarking tools for high-throughput phenotyping systems. Information gained from the combined controlled-environment and field phenotyping systems will lead to rapid advancements in high-yielding energy sorghum. The project will provide a comprehensive set of phenotypic trait and genetic data in standard community-defined formats that will be made available to researchers through a high-performance computing environment.
These innovations will advance the effectiveness and speed of sorghum breeding programs and production, and add next-generation feedstocks with more favorable greenhouse gas emission profiles to our total energy supply. Although the systems developed will initially be used to improve energy sorghum, they will be directly extendable to other significant energy or food security crops.