University of Nevada studying desert plants for drought tolerance

Researchers hope to adapt knowledge to biofuel crops

A team of researchers led by a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, hopes to study drought-resistant desert plants and apply that knowledge to redesigning biofuel crops.

The group (John Cushman, a biochemistry professor at the University of Nevada, Reno; Xiaohan Yang at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL); James Hartwell at the University of Liverpool, UK; and Anne Borland at Newcastle University, UK and ORNL) will develop technologies to redesign bioenergy crops to grow on economically marginal agricultural lands and produce yields of biomass that can readily be converted to biofuels. The development of water-use efficient, fast-growing trees such as poplar for such sites will also help reduce competition with food crops for usable farmland.

The long-term goal of the proposed research is to enhance the plant’s water-use efficiency and adaptability to hotter, drier climates. “With climate change predictions for a 7-degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature and a decrease in reliable precipitation patterns by 2080 for much of America’s breadbasket, and with a greater need for sources of biofuels for transportation, these biodesign approaches to enhancing biomass production become very important,” said Cushman.

The project will be funded by a $14.3 million U.S. Department of Energy grant.