by Jennifer Shike, University of Illinois
Glossy15 might sound like a hair product or a process to enhance your teenager’s latest photo, but it’s actually a very important gene that is offering clues to enhancing future bioenergy production.
Stephen Moose, University of Illinois (U of I) professor of crop sciences, discovered Glossy15 as a graduate student and has been studying it ever since. After coming to the U of I, he started using biotechnology to increase the gene’s expression to see what it would do.
A big boost to this research will be a $1 million USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) grant the will help researchers determine if changes in the Glossy15 gene system of sorghum will lead to enhanced bioenergy production in the future.
“Understanding how to modify crops we already know about and tailoring them to bioenergy uses is becoming increasingly important,” says Moose, who is also a member of the Energy Biosciences Institute in the Institute for Genomic Biology. “If we really want to make this happen, we need to tailor our crops to local environments and develop crops that are economically and environmentally sustainable.”
In order to improve biomass yields and conversion to bioenergy, plant traits such as growth habit, sensitivity to day length, flowering time, carbon partitioning, and nutrient use efficiency must be improved, Moose says.
“We discovered that the Glossy15 gene in maize slows down the rate of transitions between developmental phases, such as the onset of flowering,” he explains. “The more this gene is expressed, the longer the plant stays in vegetative growth instead of flowering and ending the annual cycle.”
Because of this increased expression of the Glossy15 gene in maize, grain yields are reduced and result in greater accumulation of total biomass and stalk sugars. In addition, the nitrogen requirements to maximize total biomass are much less for the hybrids with higher Glossy15 expression.
“Because of the close relationship between maize and sorghum, it’s possible that interactions between the genes in maize will help program differences in shoot maturation that distinguish grain, sweet and biomass sorghum cultivars,” he says. “We are interested in finding out if this gene can be used to convert superior sorghum grain hybrids to cultivars enhanced for bioenergy production.”
Through comparative genomics, targeted resequencing, RNA expression analysis and association mapping, U of I researchers plan to further characterize sorghum in order to regulate shoot maturation.
“Collectively, our results may lead to improved sorghum cultivars optimized for sustainable, low-cost production of biomass for lignocellulosic processing,” Moose adds.
Their project titled “Functional analysis of regulatory networks linking shoot maturation, stem carbon partitioning, and nutrient utilization in sorghum” has been approved for the next three years. Researchers include Moose and Patrick Brown of the U of I, and Max Moehs of Arcadia Biosciences in California.
USDA AFRI grants are awarded to projects that accelerate plant breeding programs and improve biomass feedstocks by characterizing the genes, proteins, and molecular interactions that influence biomass production. The goal is to lay the groundwork for biofuels derived from lignocellulosic biomass materials.