bioenergy crops that won’t compete with
land currently in use for food production,
as the demand for both increases with
growing global populations and economic
development. Through recent investments in
new high throughput imaging technologies,
computational resources and a vast array of
plant growth facilities and greenhouses, the
Danforth Center has embarked on a new era
of plant systems and synthetic biology.
Scientists at the Enterprise Institute are
now able to monitor plant growth daily
and remotely through sensitive imaging
tools that, when combined with novel
computational approaches, track plant
biomass accumulation, leaf temperature
(a signature of drought stress), and
photosynthesis on thousands of plants.
Such precision measurements would have
taken hundreds of scientists to obtain just
a few years ago, and are now automated.
These highly resolved phenotypes provide
geneticists and breeders with the potential
to identify genes that control traits such
as photosynthetic capacity, nitrogen and
water use efficiency. Knowing which genes
controls these traits, immediately helps the
breeding process where molecular markers
can be designed to these gene and used to
accelerate the breeding process.
New genome editing tools such as CRISPR/
Cas9 are now enabling molecular biologists
to precisely engineer the sorghum genome
to deliver optimized genes to enhance the
productivity and water use efficiencies of
sorghum. It is truly an exciting time in plant
science—through the convergence of high
throughput phenotyping, computational
biology and genome editing, the next
generation of bioenergy crops are being
custom designed to produce higher yields
under more sustainable agricultural practices,
and sorghum will likely be one of the first
crops to benefit.
Thomas P. Brutnell, PhD, is the Director of
the Enterprise Institute for Renewable Fuels
at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.
The primary objective of his program is to
expand the research portfolio to include the
use of model plant systems to accelerate gene
discovery and the development of second-generation lignocellulosic feedstocks.
Credit: Danforth Plant Science Center