Jeremy Schmutz, head of the DOE Joint Genome Institute Plant Program and a faculty investigator at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, talks about how bioenergy research interests are woven into the cotton genome.

In 2012, HudsonAlpha Faculty Investigator Jeremy Schmutz, along with the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, completed a study of the cotton genome.

Schmutz is head of JGI’s plant program whose mission is to work with Department of Energy funded groups to develop next generation cellulosic biofuels. In doing so, JGI conducts a number of projects that include looking at the genome of gossypium raimondii, also known as cotton.

“Cotton is a crop that grows out in the field and produces fibers,” Schmutz said. “It turns out that those fibers are actually nearly pure cellulose, and we’re interested in understanding how the plant converts light energy into cellulose.”

If scientists can understand how cellulose is formed, this will lead to a better understanding of how cellulose is deposited in other plants, such as switchgrass and miscanthus, that are used for bioenergy purposes. In addition, JGI seeks to improve several traits of the cotton genome including increasing its drought tolerance in order to conserve more water and use less.

“One of the other traits of cotton that would be very helpful for production is to increase the cotton’s natural disease and pest resistance so that we don’t need to use as many pesticides on cotton fields,” Schmutz said.

This is just one of the many projects on which the JGI plant program is working in order to further the development of alternative fuel sources and to better understand the environment.

Connect with Schmutz and others focused on crops improvement at the 2015 CROPS conference May 18-21 at HudsonAlpha. For more information and to register, visit www.CROPSconference.org.

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