Biofuel and crop research grows by AUS$1.6m

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The research team will identify the genes associated with key plant properties responsible for growth, flowering and grain-filling in grasses.

They will use the advanced robotic and imaging plant research tools of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) to conduct the research.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has recognised the unique, world-class capability that the APPF affords by providing the funds through its Plant Feedstock Genomics program.

The DOE will apply the results to biofuel grasses development and the CSIRO will increase the productivity of cereal food crops such as wheat.

Scientific Director of the APPF’s High Resolution Plant Phenomics Centre in Canberra, CSIRO’s Dr Bob Furbank, said the combined technology of CSIRO, the Phenomics Centre and USDA will advance the development of biofuels and higher-yielding cereal crops, previously hampered by the genetic complexity and long lifecycle of cereal crops.

“For this reason, a tiny, rapidly growing plant very similar to wheat, called Brachypodium, has been adopted by the USDA as a ‘lab rat’ for biofuels research,” Dr Furbank said.

“Unlike wheat, all the genes in Brachypodium have been sequenced by the DOE and are available publically.

“Using world leading technologies developed at the Phenomics Centre genes which enable biofuel crops to grow in marginal agricultural land will be identified.

“This knowledge will also rapidly advance yield and stress tolerance research in crops such as wheat.”

Biofuel crops must have traits for efficient and environmentally sustainable crop production and a chemical composition appropriate for conversion to liquid fuels.

They must also be bred to require fewer inputs, for example pesticide and herbicide applications, fertilizer, water, and the use of energy-consuming farm equipment.

The DOE and the USDA have awarded in excess of US$10 million over three years through their Plant Feedstock Genomics program in an effort to develop biofuels from the fibrous, woody and inedible portions of plant matter.

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