Sorghum Research Surges

Sorghum’s sustainable qualities have sparked a surge in investments from the research field.

Sorghum is an ancient grain that human and animal species have consumed for centuries, and today is one of the leading crops grown in the United States. With sorghum receiving renewed recognition as an environmental and water-efficient crop with many health and climate benefits, this grain is experiencing a surge in investments from the research field. Accounting for more than $25M in ongoing and future projects, researchers will be evaluating multiple facets of sorghum and will work to enhance its production and high-value usages.

Donald Danforth Plant Science Center takes on $2.7M Gene Function Project

Through a multi-institutional partnership, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center supports a three-year $2.7M gene function project to enhance sorghum as a bioenergy crop. Grain sorghum is inherently resilient, making it a desirable cropping option in water-deficient and hot environments. Enhancing sorghum’s natural resiliency could be vital in mitigating the effects of climate change and varying growing conditions.

Principal investigator Andrea Eveland, Ph.D., will work with collaborating investigators to analyze the sorghum’s genetic diversity to examine how responses at the molecular level can cause morphological changes in response to drought stress.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Studies Sorghum’s Genetic Makeup to Improve Nitrogen Efficiency

In another $2.7M project, Jinliang Yang, Ph.D., at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is collaborating with Kansas State University and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology to improve grain sorghum’s nitrogen use efficiency. Previous studies have shown that several sorghum genes appear to have a role in managing nitrogen. This research project will also focus on other aspects of sorghum’s fertilizer use, including nitrogen sensing, signaling and downstream regulatory pathways. Yang is able to lead this project through grant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. Yang says the project’s overall goal is to increase sorghum nitrogen use efficiency and that the most promising varieties will be used across Nebraska through field testing.

Nebraska Food for Health Center Studying Sorghum Genes Related to Human Gut Health

The human body houses many microorganisms that benefit overall health and is directly influenced by our lifestyle and diet. Different foods provide unique nutrients and intestinal benefits to enhance microbe activity within the human gut—particularly whole grains. Scientists at the Nebraska Food for Health Center are evaluating how different crops and grains play a vital role in retaining gut health, studying sorghum consumption.

After sampling 300 kinds of sorghum and their effects on gut microbiomes, Dr. James Schnable with the Nebraska Food for Health Center found that grain consumption caused major changes in the human gut microbiome. Results showed that sorghum seed color played a role in microbiome activity, as dark-colored seeds stimulated growth of a set of microbes while light-colored seeds failed to stimulate growth. The study findings showed that the two parts of the genome contained Tan1 and Tan2 genes, which control the production of condensed tannins in food products like red wine and dark chocolate. These organisms could be beneficial for human health, particularly for those suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease and other gastrointestinal issues.

Texas Tech University $1.6M Research to Focus on Sorghum Climatic Yield Potential and Grain Quality

Through a $1.6M grant from United Sorghum Checkoff Program (USCP), researchers from Texas Tech University will work to study the climatic yield potential and grain quality in sorghum. Co-investigators at Texas Tech University Davis College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources, Krishna Jagadish, Ph.D., and Dr. Haydee Laza, Ph.D., will collaborate with Texas A&M University, Kansas State University, the U.S Department of Agriculture and industry partners in this 5-year project with the intent to enhance grain sorghum productivity and yields. Jagadish believes this research can help bolster other U.S.-based public sorghum programs through a multi-disciplinary approach.

“For the first time in modern history, we have an opportunity to reimagine the architecture of the plant and how it operates,” USCP CEO Tim Lust said in a release. “From drought tolerance to photosynthetic efficiency, this stellar team of physiology experts will leave no stone unturned in pursuit of a more productive, efficient sorghum plant for our farmers.” Read more about the project on page 1 of the Sorghum Checkoff Newsletter.

Texas A&M Agrilife Carbon Replenishment in Soil

Carbon emissions contribute to climate change and significantly influence the environment and our production practices. Finding unique ways to mitigate the consequences of climate change is at the forefront of scientific research. Recently, Texas A&M AgriLife embarked on a bioenergy study to evaluate if sorghum’s roots can replenish carbon in the soil. GCB recently published the findings of this study, and their results show bioenergy sorghum hybrids capture and sequester significant amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide in soil.

Principal investigator John Mullet, professor and Perry L. Adkisson Chair in Agricultural Biology in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and Bill Rooney, professor and Borlaug-Monsanto Chair for Plant Breeding and International Crop Improvement have collaborated for 15 years developing bioenergy sorghum. In their most recent study, Mullet and Rooney found that an acre planted with a bioenergy sorghum hybrid accumulates about 3.1 tons of dry root biomass over the crop’s 155-day growing season. Essentially, this research shows sorghum can improve soil fertility and potentially earn carbon credits that offset greenhouse gas emissions.

$15 million Ohio State University Carbon Sequestration Project

The Ohio State University is leading a $15M project with funding split between a $5 million grant from Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research and roughly $10 million in matching contributions from Ohio State and various other donors, including the United Sorghum Checkoff Program and National Sorghum Producers. This study will work to take carbon emitting into our airways and capture it into the soil to enhance health and agronomic productivity. Carbon sequestration is often seen as a solution to climate change. This study will evaluate how organic and inorganic carbon gets sequestered in the soil under different farming practices in the western hemisphere.

University of Illinois Research on Grain Sorghum Photosynthesis Efficiency

The Department of Energy has awarded another $1.85M grant as part of their initiative to advance bioenergy technology to the University of Illinois to lead a research project focused on photosynthesis efficiency in grain sorghum. Sorghum has become an increasingly important bioenergy crop, and Steve Long, Director of the University of Illinois Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), says bioenergy sorghums are very prolific and could be even more productive if we can identify ways to lessen its inability to adapt to shading. Aiming to evaluate the causes of sorghum’s photosynthetic inefficiencies in shaded canopies, Long’s research hopes to improve productivity and increase the yield of bioenergy sorghum.

Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) Grant

Sorghum is a nutrient-dense grain consumed by humans, livestock and household pets. Particularly in canines, research has shown that sorghum mill feed introduced into their diet resulted in lower digestibility, which could prove helpful in managing weight in overweight dogs at risk of developing diabetes. With an investment of over $2.5M from Seeding Solutions,
Carolina Seed Systems, Inc. and Clemson University, researchers at Clemson will study sorghum plant properties that enhance these beneficial compounds in commercial sorghum while simultaneously retaining its animal feed usage.

Under the direction of plant breeder Richard Boyles, Ph.D., the team of researchers at Clemson will assess the health properties in sorghum beneficial for human consumption that do not cause negative outcomes for animals. The final step in the project is to provide value-added, non-GMO sorghum varieties that enhance poultry development and their capability to reduce harmful diseases within the poultry’s intestinal health.