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ARS Home » Plains Area » Lubbock, Texas » Cropping Systems Research Laboratory » Plant Stress and Germplasm Development Research » Research » Research Project #444559

Research Project: Genetic Improvement of Sorghum Traits that Advance Agricultural Productivity and Climate Resilience

Location: Plant Stress and Germplasm Development Research

Project Number: 3096-21000-024-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Mar 1, 2023
End Date: Feb 29, 2028

Objective 1. Use traditional and molecular breeding techniques to develop superior sorghum breeding germplasm and hybrids adapted to diverse environments including improved thermal tolerance and improved water use efficiency. Sub-objective 1A: Development and agronomic testing of grain and forage inbreds and hybrids with the dominant multiple tiller trait. Objective 2. Utilize diverse germplasm and sorghum mutants to discover and characterize genes and traits such as cold and drought tolerance, and improved hybrid yield, required for superior sorghum production. Sub-objective 2A: Characterize phenology and biomass accumulation of a dominant multiple tiller mutant (mtl-d1). Sub-objective 2B: Using remote sensing via small unoccupied aircraft systems (sUAS) as a high-throughput method to screen stay-green and sugarcane aphid (SCA) tolerance. Sub-objective 2C: Identify the causal mutation for mtl-d1 and genes associated with biomass production. Sub-objective 2D: Evaluation and analyses of morphological variation in grain composition and total seed protein and quality for 256 sequenced AIMS sorghum mutants. Sub-objective 2E: Identification of candidate genes and development of DNA markers for increased seed protein content in sorghum. Objective 3. Discover and characterize sorghum physiological adaptation traits such as modified leaf angle, variable stomatal density, and stay-green drought tolerance, in diverse sorghum germplasm. Sub-objective 3.A: Characterizing radiation use efficiency (RUE) in sorghum through erect leaf architecture and plant height. Sub-objective 3B: Exploring potential increase in sink size and strength by characterizing components of panicle architecture using automated tools.

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor, L. Moench) is an important C4 crop that is grown in a variety of environments worldwide for food, feed, forage, and cellulosic biomass production. The crop is known for its inherent drought tolerance, especially compared to other cereal crops like maize and rice. More recently, sorghum has gained attention as a health food crop with desirable market characteristics such as gluten-free grain, and as a sustainably grown product that is rich with beneficial compounds such as antioxidants. Sorghum, as a crop commodity in the United States, is of critical importance in major grain production regions of the country where water is limited. Unfortunately, sorghum crop improvement has remained relatively stagnant for the last 40 years. This stagnation in yield improvements is partially due to minimal research investments by public and private institutions. As climate change effects agricultural production worldwide, and specifically the U.S. Great Plains, it is imperative that scientists improve sorghum in terms of yield potential and end-user utilization. The objective of this research is to integrate recent advances in plant breeding and molecular biology with next generation phenotyping technologies to accelerate the rate of genetic gain in grain and forage sorghum. This project aims to elucidate the genes and gene networks controlling novel agronomic and compositional traits such as leaf erectness, altered and optimized plant height, multi-tillering, and grain protein enhancement. The products of this research will include improved sorghum germplasm, trait-specific genetic markers, and an improved understanding of the physiological traits that enhance sorghum productivity.