HudsonAlpha researchers part of $1 million USDA grant to study bioenergy crops


Four-year grant includes plant genomics research and education components

Huntsville, Ala. – HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology has announced a new grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture that will support plant genomics research at HudsonAlpha and Alabama A&M University.

“We’re excited about the possibilities of this project to identify plants that are better adapted to their environment and have higher yields than the current crops in the biofuel supply chain,” said Kankshita Swaminathan, PhD, a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha. Swaminathan is leading the research at HudsonAlpha along with Sara Cooper, PhD, also a HudsonAlpha faculty investigator. Collaborators Ernst Cebert, PhD, and Venkateswara Sripathi, PhD, in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at Alabama A&M, complete the team of Huntsville scientists working on the project.

The group, along with plant geneticists from the University of Illinois, will use a collection of plant materials from around the world to breed new varieties of miscanthus. Miscanthus is a type of grass sometimes cultivated as silvergrass in ornamental gardens. This research, however, is focused on the agricultural applications of miscanthus as a source of biofuel. They will also field test already developed hybrids that show promise for both cold tolerance and high yields.

For the project, the team will use genomic selection tools to identify and make decisions about targeted traits on a genome level without having to grow mature plants. This process eliminates the time-consuming process of traditional plant breeding, which relies largely on trial and error to select for desirable traits like plant height or stem thickness.

The four-year grant also includes a collaborative educational component between HudsonAlpha and Alabama A&M. High school, undergraduate and graduate students will have access to lab training and courses on plant genomics, and a graduate student will be funded by the project.

This work is supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant no. 2018-68005-27937 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

About HudsonAlpha: HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is a nonprofit institute dedicated to developing and applying scientific advances to health, agriculture, learning, and commercialization. Opened in 2008, HudsonAlpha’s vision is to leverage the synergy between discovery, education, medicine, and economic development in genomic sciences to improve the human condition around the globe. The HudsonAlpha biotechnology campus consists of 152 acres nestled within Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second largest research park. The state-of-the-art facilities co-locate nonprofit scientific researchers with entrepreneurs and educators. HudsonAlpha has become a national and international leader in genetics and genomics research and biotech education and includes more than 30 diverse biotech companies on campus. To learn more about HudsonAlpha, visit hudsonalpha.org.

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