Clemson University’s Institute of Translational Genomics, led by geneticist Stephen Kresovich, has been awarded $6 million by Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy as one of six projects to develop sustainable energy crops for biofuels.
ARPA-E, a federal agency within the Department of Energy that promotes and funds research and development of advanced energy technologies, announced the projects in Washington, D.C. When combined, the six selected TERRA (Transportation Energy Resources for Renewable Agriculture) projects have been allotted a total of $30 million.
Clemson’s project, with Kresovich as principal investigator, is titled “Breeding High Yielding Bioenergy Sorghum for the New Bioenergy Belt.” The university will collaborate with the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute and partners to combine genomics and robotics in an unprecedented approach to advancing agriculture and plant breeding.
According to the ARPA-E announcement, Kresovich will lead a team of geneticists, engineers and computational scientists in an expansive examination of the phenotype of a massive set of international diverse sorghum materials. The phenotype of an organism involves how genetic and environmental influences merge to create its physical appearance, composition and behavior.
In addition, researchers will design and build cutting-edge robotics – ground and aerial – that will use space-age technologies to enhance the ease and frequency of data collection for crop testing. These new instruments will directly contact the plants in order to systematically quantify physical characteristics that are currently measured with more labor-intensive methods. As a result, our understanding of the plant material’s potential use as a transportation fuel will increase dramatically.
“These projects represent the future of agriculture,” said Kresovich, director of Clemson’s genomics institute. “They are examples of how advanced tools of engineering and genomics are going to be used to tailor and optimize agricultural systems and plant breeding in the 21st century,” he said.