Dr. Vermerris, of the University of Florida, gave a fascinating presentation on the bioenergy traits in sorghum. To begin with, sorghum is a highly valued bioenergy crop because it is a high-yield, low-input crop, which can be grown on marginal lands with minor irrigation and whose entire genome has been sequenced. Unfortunately, the genetics of sugar accumulation in sorghum are not completely understood, however once set of genes, the bmr mutants have been identified as controlling sugar production in some regard. These mutants are capable of potentially allowing modifications of the cell walls and being converted more easily to digestible sugars (15-20% more with an acid pretreatment). These issues are similar to those found in sweet sorghum whose sugar accumulation process is also not totally understood. A QTL for sugar accumulation has been identified and compared with regions in non-sweet sorghum to search for differences. These techniques are proposed for use in maize as well, but maize is highly divergent and much less stable than sorghum, which makes this less feasible. This has spawned a number of spin-off investigations, including water use efficiency (drought-tolerance that can be affected by root architecture) and anthracnose resistance (fungal pathogen). Overall, this talk was very informative- discussing the genetic manipulation of one the most popular emerging biofuel alternatives.
Conference Post #2: Bioenergy in sorghum