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Title: Development of a Low Input and sustainable Switchgrass Feedstock Production System Utilizing Beneficial Bacterial Endophytes

Switchgrass represents a promising feedstock crop for US energy sustainability. However, its broad utilization for bioenergy requires improvements of biomass yields and stress tolerance. In this DOE funded project, we have been working on harnessing beneficial bacterial endophytes to enhance switchgrass performance and to develop a low input feedstock production system for marginal lands that do not compete with the production of food crops. We have demonstrated that one of most promising plant growth-promoting bacterial endophytes, Burkholderia phytofirmans strain PsJN, is able to colonize roots and significantly promote growth of switchgrass cv. Alamo under in vitro, growth chamber, greenhouse, as well as field conditions. Furthermore, PsJN bacterization improved growth and development of switchgrass seedlings, significantly stimulated plant root and shoot growth, and tiller number in the field, and enhanced biomass accumulation on both poor (p<0.001) and rich (p<0.05) soils, with more effective stimulation of plant growth in low fertility soil. Plant physiology measurements showed that PsJN inoculated Alamo had consistently lower transpiration, lower stomatal conductance, and higher water use efficiency in greenhouse conditions. These physiological changes may significantly contribute to the recorded growth enhancement. PsJN inoculation rapidly results in an increase in photosynthetic rates which contributes to the advanced growthmore » and development. Some evidence suggests that this initial growth advantage decreases with time when resources are not limited such as in greenhouse studies. Additionally, better drought resistance and drought hardening were observed in PsJN inoculated switchgrass. Using the DOE-funded switchgrass EST microarray, in a collaboration with the Genomics Core Facility at the Noble Foundation, we have determined gene expression profile changes in both responsive switchgrass cv. Alamo and non-responsive cv. Cave-in-Rock (CR) following PsJN bacterization. With the MapMan software to analyze microarray data, the number of up- and down-regulated probes was calculated. The number of up-regulated probes in Alamo was 26, 14, 14, and 12% at 0.5, 2, 4 and 8 days after inoculation (DAI) with PsJN, respectively while the corresponding number in CR was 24, 22, 21, and 19%, respectively. In both cultivars, the largest number of up-regulated probes occurred at 0.5 DAI. Noticeable differences throughout the timeframe between Alamo and CR were that the number was dramatically decreased to half (12%) in Alamo but remained high in CR (approximately 20%). The number of down regulated genes demonstrated different trends in Alamo and CR. Alamo had an increasing trend from 9% at 0.5 DAI to 11, 17, and 28% at 2, 4, and 8 DAI, respectively. However, CR had 13% at 0.5 and 2 DAI, and declined to 10% at 4 and 8 DAI. With the aid of MapMan and PageMan, we mapped the response of the ID probes to the observed major gene regulatory network and major biosynthetic pathway changes associated with the beneficial bacterial endophyte infection, colonization, and early growth promotion process. We found significant differences in gene expression patterns between responsive and non-responsive cultivars in many pathways, including redox state regulation, signaling, proteolysis, transcription factors, as well as hormone (SA and JA in particular)-associated pathways. Form microarray data, a total of 50 key genes have been verified using qPCR. Ten of these genes were chosen for further functional study via either overexpression and/or RNAi knockout technologies. These genes were calmodulin-related calcium sensor protein (CAM), glutathione S-transferase (GST), histidine-containing phosphotransfer protein (H-221), 3 different zinc finger proteins (ZF-371, ZF131 and ZF242), EF hand transcription factor (EF-622), peroxidase, cellulose synthase catalytic submit A2 (CESA2), and Aux/IAA family. A total of 8 overexpression and 5 RNAi transgenic plants have been regenerated, and their gene expression levels determined using qPCR. Consequently high, medium and low expression lines were propagated in vitro for gene function study. When adequate numbers of individual transgenic lines were obtained, they were challenged with PsJN to see if PsJN promotes or inhibits growth of transgenic plants. Our results demonstrated that EF-622 overexpression, ZF-371, GST, H-221 and CAM RNAi transgenic lines lost responses to PsJN, i.e. PsJN had no growth promotive effects on these transgenic plants. Further study needs to be done to characterize this loss of responsiveness to PsJN. During this funding period, we have done more work related to this funded project and established collaborations with other institutions and obtained some interesting results, building a foundation for further research projects. For example, we isolated a naturally-occurring bacterium from surface-sterilized switchgrass seeds, identified as a unique Panteoa agglomerans species, and named strain PaKM. PaKM has been proved to be an efficient growth promoter of switchgrass over a broad spectrum of genotypes and has potential in applications with low input and sustainable production systems on marginal lands. In collaboration with Dr. Shuijin Hu (North Carolina State University), we conducted experiments on how endophyte-inoculated switchgrass affects soil N and P availability and the number of AMF in roots. Our preliminary results showed that PsJN increased AMF infection of switchgrass roots, and enhanced soil N availability and soil N mineralization on a low nutrient field. Further study of this phenomenon on different soils, over longer time periods, is needed to assess its potential impact on the productivity and longevity of switchgrass stands.« less
 [1] ;  [2] ;  [2]
  1. IALR
  2. VPISU
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
DoE IALR Switchgrass Final Report
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Institute for Advanced Learning and Research
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE; USDOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Biomass Program (EE-2E)
Contributing Orgs:
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Country of Publication:
United States
09 BIOMASS FUELS Beneficial Bacterial Endophytes, Growth Promotion, Global gene expression profiling, Low input sustainable production system