The DOE is interested in switchgrass as a prospective biofuels feedstock, but its genome is complicated because it has multiple copies of its chromosomes. As the world leader in sequencing plants and other organisms for their relevance to DOE missions, the JGI has sequenced switchgrass and several other plants that are candidate plant feedstocks; other plants have been sequenced for their utility as models.
Panicle of foxtail millet (Setaria italica), a close relative of switchgrass.
(Image by Katrien Devos, University of Georgia)
In a study published ahead online May 13, 2012 in Nature Biotechnology, JGI Plant Program head Jeremy Schmutz of the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology and Jeff Bennetzen of the University of Georgia and the Bioenergy Science Center led an international team of researchers in describing the genome of foxtail millet (Setaria italica), a model plant that is much more closely related to switchgrass than previously sequenced references. The team also sequenced foxtail millet’s wild relative, green foxtail (S. viridis), and compared these two genomes.
Aside from its utility in checking the ongoing assembly of the switchgrass genome researchers can use foxtail millet to study switchgrass traits such as cell wall formation. Setaria is also considered a good model for learning how grasses can adapt and thrive under various environmental conditions. Additionally, it appears to have independently evolved a pathway for photosynthesis that is separate from that used by maize and sorghum.
“The Setaria genome is a high quality reference genome,” Schmutz said. “If you want to conduct functional studies that require knowing all the genes and how they are localized relative to one another, then use this genome.”