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USDA Announces Grants to Study Climate Change Mitigation and Bioenergy Development

Media Contact: Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188

DAVIS, Calif., Jan. 12, 2011 – Roger Beachy, director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced today two Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP) awards to the University of California-Davis that have implications for both climate variability and the development of a promising new sustainable bioenergy source.

“I am pleased to formally announce two significant investments by USDA in science that will impact agriculture. In one of these exciting projects, a team of researchers will tease out the impacts of changes in climate on crop yields and identify genetic loci that can be incorporated in breeding of barley and wheat to tolerate changes that accompany change in climate. The second research team will generate and use genomics information to provide an understanding of genes and genetics in conifers to help in developing new bioenergy sources,” Beachy said. “Each of these projects feature transdisciplinary, regional, integrated teams, including scientists from institutions that represent underserved populations - an approach that represents a new paradigm in how USDA science can best solve critical issues facing agriculture today.”

NIFA awarded a research team led by UC Davis researcher Dr. Jorge Dubcovsky $25 million to develop new varieties of wheat and barley. The work will focus on the biological and abiotic stresses that are caused, at least in part, by changes in weather patterns. The Dubcovsky-led Triticeae Coordinated Agricultural Project (T-CAP) is composed of 55 university and USDA researchers, breeders and educators from 21 states. The team will identify favorable gene variants for disease resistance, water and nitrogen use efficiency and yield improvement from a diverse representation of barley and wheat germplasm to mitigate impacts of climate variability on agricultural productivity. The 5-year project will also develop a Plant Breeding Education Network to train 30 new doctoral students in plant breeding and provide educational opportunities for 100 undergraduate students interested in plant improvement.

Beachy also announced a $14.6 million NIFA award to a team led by Dr. David Neale to sequence the loblolly pine genome, and the genomes of two other conifers: sugar pine and Douglas fir. Pine genomes are extremely large at 10 times the size of the human genome. The genome sequence of these important species will accelerate breeding efforts and are expected to enhance their uses as feedstocks for biofuels and biopower. Increased planting of fast growing varieties of loblolly pine and other agroforestry crops will also contribute to carbon sequestration and help to mitigate the effects of climate change.

UC Davis is the lead institution on the 5-year Loblolly Pine Genome CAP and will be  joined by the Children’s Hospital of Oakland Research Institute, Washington State University, Texas A&M University, Indiana University and the University of Maryland. The pine germplasm to be sequenced comes from the North Carolina State University Cooperative Breeding Program and was produced by a mating made by the Virginia Department of Forestry.

Both awards were made through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program and was established by the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: 1) plant health and production and plant products; 2) animal health and production and animal products; 3) food safety, nutrition and health; 4) renewable energy, natural resources and environment; 5) agriculture systems and technology; and 6) agriculture economics and rural communities.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future.  More information is available at: www.nifa.usda.gov.

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