Developing pennycress (Thlaspi arvense) as a new winter annual oilseed cover crop.
Improving the quality of plant biomass of bioenergy crops for generating biofuels.
Domestication of pennycress
Pennycress is a Brassica species closely related to Arabidopsis and rapeseed canola that has considerable potential as a new winter annual oilseed cover crop to be planted near the time of corn harvest and harvested the following spring in time to plant soybeans. Although wild strains of pennycress can produce up to 2,000 pounds of seed containing 85 gallons of oil per acre, yields of wild strains are highly variable due to inconsistent stand establishment.
As part of efforts to rapidly domesticate pennycress, we are employing cutting edge tools to genetically improve agronomic traits of pennycress. Traits being advanced include reduced seed dormancy, improved crop stand establishment, reduced pod shatter, and improved oil and seed meal quality.
This work is in collaboration with researchers at the University of Minnesota, Western Illinois University, CoverCress, Inc., and elsewhere, and is funded by a USDA-NIFA/DOE Plant Feedstocks Genomics for Bioenergy grant. To learn more about the prospects of pennycress as a non-invasive oilseed cover crop having economic and environmental benefits, check out our pennycress review article published in the journal Plant Science.
Here is a nice blog post on pennycress.
Bioenergy crop feedstock development
We employ molecular genetic and biochemical approaches on the model grass Brachypodium distachyon and on maize to elucidate how plants form their secondary cell walls, in particular the lignin component. Lignin is a phenolic polymer conferring tissue strength and protection against biotic and abiotic challenges. Lignin is difficult to break down during the process of converting biomass to liquid biofuels. Our goal is to identify genetic changes affecting lignin and other cell wall components that will improve biomass deconstruction properties of bioenergy crops, whithout compromising plant growth and resistance to disease.
This work is in collaboration with researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michigan State University, and at labs located around the world, as part of the DOE-funded Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC).