Research Report 2019_20


Kankshita Swaminathan, PhD and Crop & Sciences lead at Illinois University collaborating in the fields at Alabama A&M University where miscanthus is being studied.

make varieties of switchgrass that will produce the most biomass yet will survive in colder climates. By breeding switchgrass that can thrive across different climates, the research group hopes to meet the challenge of cre- ating a biofuel crop that is not only sustainable and clean but can also be grown on lands that are not traditionally useful for growing food. n

Swaminathan is also part of a team of researchers from across the United States that have been working together to genetically characterize and improve the biomass production of switchgrass, a grass that grows in much of North America. Switchgrass is a promising biofuel candidate because it has several desirable qual- ities such as deep roots that allow it to access nutrients easily from a variety of soils, and a higher tolerance for extreme water conditions, such as drought or prolonged periods of rain. There are several varieties of switch- grass based upon the climate and environment in which they grow. In September 2020, the research team received a Department of Energy (DOE) grant to produce a vari- ety of switchgrass that is high-producing like southern plants but has cold tolerance like northern plants. To accomplish this goal, the team planted switchgrass in common gardens at 10 diverse sites across the United States. This allows the research group to study how ge- netics and the environment interact, with the ultimate goal of determining the genes or genetic changes re- sponsible for desirable switchgrass traits. After identi- fying these genes, the team will rely on Swaminathan’s expertise in targeted gene editing and plant breeding to

Yokshitha Bathula tracing plant nutrients in different parts of plant.

2019-20 Research Report 33

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