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Title: Translational Genomics for the Improvement of Switchgrass

Our objectives were to apply bioinformatics and high throughput sequencing technologies to identify and classify the genes involved in cell wall formation in maize and switchgrass. Targets for genetic modification were to be identified and cell wall materials isolated and assayed for enhanced performance in bioprocessing. We annotated and assembled over 750 maize genes into gene families predicted to function in cell wall biogenesis. Comparative genomics of maize, rice, and Arabidopsis sequences revealed differences in gene family structure. In addition, differences in expression between gene family members of Arabidopsis, maize and rice underscored the need for a grass-specific genetic model for functional analyses. A forward screen of mature leaves of field-grown maize lines by near-infrared spectroscopy yielded several dozen lines with heritable spectroscopic phenotypes, several of which near-infrared (nir) mutants had altered carbohydrate-lignin compositions. Our contributions to the maize genome sequencing effort built on knowledge of copy number variation showing that uneven gene losses between duplicated regions were involved in returning an ancient allotetraploid to a genetically diploid state. For example, although about 25% of all duplicated genes remain genome-wide, all of the cellulose synthase (CesA) homologs were retained. We showed that guaiacyl and syringyl lignin in lignocellulosic cell-wall materialsmore » from stems demonstrate a two-fold natural variation in content across a population of maize Intermated B73 x Mo7 (IBM) recombinant inbred lines, a maize Association Panel of 282 inbreds and landraces, and three populations of the maize Nested Association Mapping (NAM) recombinant inbred lines grown in three years. We then defined quantitative trait loci (QTL) for stem lignin content measured using pyrolysis molecular-beam mass spectrometry, and glucose and xylose yield measured using an enzymatic hydrolysis assay. Among five multi-year QTL for lignin abundance, two for 4-vinylphenol abundance, and four for glucose and/or xylose yield, not a single QTL for aromatic abundance and sugar yield was shared. A genome-wide association study (GWAS) for lignin abundance and sugar yield of the 282-member maize Association Panel provided candidate genes in the eleven QTL and showed that many other alleles impacting these traits exist in the broader pool of maize genetic diversity. The maize B73 and Mo17 genotypes exhibited surprisingly large differences in gene expression in developing stem tissues, suggesting certain regulatory elements can significantly enhance activity of biomass synthesis pathways. Candidate genes, identified by GWAS or by differential expression, include genes of cell-wall metabolism, transcription factors associated with vascularization and fiber formation, and components of cellular signaling pathways. Our work provides new insights and strategies beyond modification of lignin to enhance yields of biofuels from genetically tailored biomass.« less
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Technical Report
Research Org:
Purdue University
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Country of Publication:
United States