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UC-Davis Scientist Awarded Special Grant

New grants totaling $8.4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Agency for Internat-ional Development and industry partners are helping University of California-Davis plant scientist Eduardo Blumwald reach out to feed and fuel the world.

With his laboratory colleagues, Blumwald uses genetic engineering to improve the drought tolerance and efficiency of switchgrass, a native North American grass valued for its potential as a sustainable source of fuel, and to develop heat- and drought-tolerant varieties of pearl millet, a vitally important grain for India and Africa. Blumwald holds the Will W. Lester Chair in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded a five-year, $6.6 million grant to Blumwald and his collaborators at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support his research into switchgrass, which has the advantages of being a high-yielding and adaptable perennial plant.

Others Working On Project

Working with Blumwald on the project are John Vogel, Christian Tobias and Roger Thilmony, all at the USDA Agricultural Research Service Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif.

Blumwald and his colleagues will use the grant to develop new molecular biology tools to accelerate switchgrass breeding. Via genetic engineering, the team also will introduce traits developed at UC Davis to increase both the plant’s drought tolerance and nutrient-use efficiency.

Because current switchgrass varieties are only a few generations removed from their undomesticated predecessors, scientists anticipate that there is considerable potential for improving the plant as an emerging energy crop.

University of California-Davis provided information for this article.