Agricultural production struggles to keep up with global challenges, such as climate change. Traditional breeding methods have been used historically to create improved crop varieties; however, using traditional breeding methods to create these improvements can be time-consuming – time that the fast-paced climate changes occurring may not allow us. Genetically engineered/edited crops might be a solution to allow agriculture to address these global challenges. Crops that are difficult to engineer/edit present an issue scientists are presently facing. While such techniques are faster than traditional breeding methods, they are challenging. The goal of this project is to reduce the time required to engineer/edit a crop, increase efficiency and expand amenable genotypes.
Sorghum bicolor is the fifth most widely grown cereal crops worldwide, primarily used in animal feed and biofuels in the US, but important as a food source in less developed countries. One of the advantages of sorghum is its extreme drought tolerance, which makes it a promising candidate to study the genetic and epigenetic factors, responsible for its ability to tolerate drought – the goal of a $13M DOE-sponsored project in which the lab is involved. The conventional method for transforming (engineering/editing) sorghum requires months to generate the target materials (immature embryos) for transformation, to introduce genes of interest and to select and regenerate transformed plants. It is also inefficient and genotype-limited.
The goal of this project is to improve transformation efficiency and expand genotypes of sorghum, using a novel transformation approach, developed recently at Pioneer Hi-Bred, predominantly for maize. Our lab mainly focuses on transformation of Sorghum bicolor and Setaria viridis, both of which utilize C4 photosynthesis. In our lab, Setaria is currently used as a model for sorghum because of its relatively fast transformation/generation time, compared to sorghum.
Routinely we use Agrobacterium-mediated transformation techniques to engineer or edit sorghum, by infecting plant tissues with the bacterium, in which the tumor-inducing genes have been replaced with candidate gene(s) of interest. But the classical method of transformation historically has not led to high efficiencies of transformation due to the lack of totipotent cells, capable of regenerating transformed plants. Utilizing the new technique, we will introduce genes of interest to see if the newly transformed plants yield phenotypes, predicted from the transcriptomic data we have collected in the large DOE-sponsored project.
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 introduction via engineering and editing, and conduct biochemical and molecular studies on the transformed materials. The student may also be involved in preparing materials for the various analyses that will be performed. The student will also be involved in documentation of the transgenic plants and tending plants in the greenhouse, collecting experimental materials and data when necessary. The student will work directly with Research Assistants, other undergraduates and the Principal Investigator. Students will participate in lab meetings and be expected to contribute to presentations and publications, as necessary. The time commitment required will be negotiated with the student.
Enthusiasm for research is necessary; previous laboratory experience outside the classroom is desirable. Care-to-detail and commitment to scheduled work times are critical.