Peggy G. Lemaux, Cooperative Extension Specialist

Closed (1) Understanding and Manipulating Sorghum for Food, Feed and Fuel

Applications for Fall 2017 are now closed for this project.

Understanding and Manipulating Sorghum for Food, Feed and Fuel

General Description

Sorghum bicolor, the fifth most important cereal crop in the world after wheat, corn, rice and barley, has grain, forage, energy and sweet types – all useful for different purposes. Currently sorghum grain is second only to corn for use in ethanol production for bioenergy. Sorghum also serves as an important human food in many developing countries and as an animal feed source in the U.S. Because it is naturally drought-, heat- and flood-tolerant, compared to corn, and requires less fertilizer, sorghum is likely to become more popular globally because of changing climatic conditions. Developing a genetic and molecular understanding of how sorghum is environmentally resilient could potentially provide insights that can be used to improve other crop plants to better tolerate changing climate conditions.

Goals of Project

In order to develop a more robust understanding of these important environmental traits at the genetic level and to use that understanding to improve crops, it is necessary to be able to efficiently perform engineering and editing technologies in sorghum. Since the entire genome of several varieties of sorghum has been completed and, as a result of our ongoing large DOE project, “Epigenetic Control of Drought Tolerance in Sorghum”, we are beginning to identify, through transcriptomics and epigenetic analyses, genes that are contributing to the ability to respond positively to these environmental stresses. Once genes are identified, it is imperative to have a facile method to introduce constructs, containing the genes of interest or the CRISPR silencing mechanisms, into sorghum (Altpeter et al. Plant Cell 2016). But historically monocots have been challenging to transform, with low efficiencies and severe genotype limitations. Recent advances have revealed a novel method for transforming monocots (and dicots) utilizing two developmental genes, Wushel and Baby Boom (Lowe et al., Plant Cell 2016). Using this approach it was shown in corn that it is possible to avoid the necessity to use immature embryos as a target tissue for transformation, to increase transformation efficiencies and to expand the number of amenable varieties. Now the challenge is to demonstrate equivalent success with Sorghum bicolor.

The interests and skills of the student will dictate the specific duties and goals in which the student will be involved. The student will first learn basic techniques employed in the lab and will then become involved in the ongoing sorghum projects. This could include in vitro culture and transformation of sorghum, molecular characterization of genes of interest following drought stress, biochemical and molecular analysis of transgenic plants and seeds using PCR, fluorescence microscopy and bioinformatic analysis. The student’s duties might also include caring for plants and planting and harvesting seeds. The student will work directly with a postdoctoral fellow, a laboratory assistant, other undergraduates and the principal investigator. Students will also participate in lab meetings and contribute to presentations and, as appropriate, publications.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Judith Owiti, Post-Doc

Qualifications: Enthusiasm for research is required; some laboratory experience outside of the classroom is desired. Ability to work easily with a diverse laboratory group is also desired. Junior preferred.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

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