In the midst of a historic drought, the U.S. Department of Energy is funding a $12.3 million project in California to examine how environmental factors influence heritable changes in gene expression in one particular crop.
The Epigenetic Control of Drought Response in Sorghum, or EPICON, focuses on understanding how sorghum, a grass related to corn, thrives on limited resources, including water. By understanding how epigenetics helps crops such as sorghum with drought tolerance, farmers could better predict how cereal crops will be impacted by climate change. Additionally, the work could lead to approaches that can help improve yields of sorghum and other crops under water-limiting conditions both in commercial fields and on marginal lands.
The work makes use of the sorghum reference genome (Sorghum bicolor) sequenced and published by the DOE JGI in 2009. Sorghum is of interest to the DOE as a bioenergy crop because of its drought resistance and ability to thrive on marginal lands.
The five-year project is led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and will involve scientists at UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, the DOE Joint Genome Institute and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The EPICON datasets will then be shared through an open, online platform that will include methods and results.
DOE JGI’s Ronan O’Malley and Matt Blow lead the team studying observable plant traits and also tracking changes in the sorghum-associated microbial communities to determine whether they correlate with changes that directly contribute to the crop’s drought tolerance.
Go here to learn more about EPICON.