Drought is the single largest impediment to agricultural production in the world, and due to climate change the severity of drought events worldwide is increasing. Genetic manipulation to increase desirable traits in crops is critical to increasing agricultural productivity under these adverse environmental conditions. With the advent of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, modern genetic manipulation is now more powerful and more precise. This project will use CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to investigate the genetic and biochemical basis of drought tolerance in Sorghum bicolor, which has been studied in a large transcriptomic effort focused on two drought-strategies imposed onfield-grown plants.
Sorghum, the world’s fifth most important cereal crop in production and acreage, is used in the U.S. primarily for animal feed and biofuel production, in Africa and India also for human consumption. Sorghum was chosen because of its drought and flood tolerance, which results in a reduced environmental footprint compared to its close relative, corn. In the face of climate change, sorghum appears ideal for the increasingly water-challenged areas of the world, including California.
Understanding the mechanisms by which sorghum is able to survive drought will allow us to improve the drought tolerance of other important crops, particularly cereal crops. Using transcriptional profiling of sorghum under drought conditions, we have identified gene targets involved in drought response and in signaling that might also be involved in shaping the root microbiome. These genes will be edited out of the sorghum genome using CRISPR/Cas9. After development of these genome-edited lines, we will assess phenotypic changes and investigate any effect on drought tolerance and microbiome composition in resulting progeny in greenhouse and field experiments.
The duties and goals of the student will depend on their skill level. The student might care for plants, plant seeds, harvest seeds, perform in vitro tissue culture and transformation for gene editing, and conduct biochemical and molecular studies on edited materials. The student may also be involved in preparing materials for the various analyses that will be performed. The student will work directly with a graduate student, a research assistant, other undergraduates (some of whom may also be SPUR participants) and the principal investigator. Students will participate in lab meetings and be expected to contribute to presentations and publications, as needed.
Enthusiasm for research is necessary; previous laboratory experience outside the classroom is desirable. Care-to-detail and commitment to scheduled work times are critical.