To compete in the energy market, biofuel feedstocks need to be high yielding and carbon neutral or negative. To avoid competition with existing food production systems, these crops will need to be grown on marginal lands with few inputs.  This will require the introduction of novel traits to increase resistance to abiotic stress associated with marginal soils and enhanced tolerance to seasonal droughts and heat. To address these issues, we will take a systems approach to dissect complex genotype by environment (G x E) interactions, including the microbiome, in one of the most promising lignocellulosic feedstocks:  Sorghum bicolor.  We have assembled an interdisciplinary team with a wide range of expertise in genetics, genomics, metabolite and transcript profiling, plant-microbe interactions, physiology, metagenomics, phenomics, breeding, and computational and statistical methods.

Two approaches for increasing the sustainable productivity of sorghum as a biofuel feedstock will be taken in this project:

  • Microbial approach - Determine the potential for a microbial solution for enhanced stress tolerance and resource use efficiency, we will survey and characterize variations in the microbial-sorghum associations across different environments and a wide range of germplasm.
  • Genetic approach - Explore the intrinsic variations across the diverse germplasm pools of sorghum, which show wide variation in phenotype and biochemistry, to determine the genetics of abiotic stress traits.

While finding solutions with either approach will be considered a success, there is potential for the two approaches to converge if we find plant genes or physiological mechanisms that enhance beneficial microbial associations that increase nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) or water use efficiency (WUE). This integrated analysis will examine the complex Gsorghum x Gmicrobe x E (G = genotype and E = environment).

The expected outcomes from this research are new strategies and tools for tailoring the next generation of lignocellulosic biofuel feedstocks for sustainable and highly productive energy production systems.