Grain sorghum is a grass plant crop grown for food grain, animal feed, the production of alcoholic beverages, and biofuels. It is an important crop worldwide, as most varieties are drought-resistant and heat-tolerant, and is the fifth-most important cereal crop grown in the world. The crop is abundant in Africa where it is sustainably grown in hot and arid regions.
However, seed yields from the grain sorghum plant varieties currently grown have remained flat or have been declining due to overuse of the same varieties. Investing in the research and development of improved plant types will aid farmers in sustained and increased crop yield from new plants.
HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, a nonprofit genomics and genetics research institute, and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, one of the world’s largest independent plant science institutes, announced today that they are initiating a three-year project to “expand and accelerate the development and deployment of advanced sorghum phenotyping and breeding technologies.” Their collaborative goal is to support the use of improved varieties for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. The plant is of interest due to its natural genetic diversity and potential to help meet the predicted doubling of food demand by 2050.
Jeremy Schmutz, a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha who leads the Institute’s work on the project, comments, “We look forward to applying our plant genome sequencing and analysis tools to optimize sorghum, a critical crop for the socioeconomic stability and food security of people living in sub-Saharan Africa.”
The goal of the new project, with recent funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is to optimize breeding strategies for improving the yield and stress tolerance of the sorghum species, Sorghum bicolor. This type of sorghum is one of the primary feedstock crops in the United States, and more importantly is a significant source of nutrition for millions of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The group will sequence and analyze grain sorghum genomes using cutting-edge technology to examine millions of phenotypic features of the plants over the course of a growing season. The phenotypic information will then be correlated to specific genotypes to create new, more efficient and tolerant breeding types of the plants.
“The Gates Foundation recognizes that most smallholder farmers rely on small plots of land for food and income. This grant will help increase the productivity of a crop that can, in a sustainable and effective way, reduce hunger and poverty and make communities economically stronger and more stable over the long term,” said James Carrington, Ph.D., president of the Danforth Center.