Seed World

Grant to Create Pan-Genome of Sorghum


The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center receives Illumina’s 2016 Agricultural Greater Good Initiative grant.
This grant program is designed to help identify measures that can increase crop yields and improve livestock welfare and productivity to alleviate poverty and hunger in the developing world.
Todd Mockler, the Geraldine J. and Robert L. Virgil Distinguished Investigator at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, and co-PI Jeremy Schmutz of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology will study the genetic diversity of grain sorghum using the HiSeq X Ten System at HudsonAlpha.
Through these efforts, NRGene’s proprietary PanMAGICTM computational platforms will be used to construct the first sorghum pan-genome.
“A comprehensive understanding of the pan-genome sequence of this cereal crop will enable breeders to design and optimize their breeding strategies and improve grain sorghum yields,” Mockler says. “I’m grateful to Illumina for this opportunity to use next-generation sequencing to improve grain sorghum breeding because it’s essential to improving yields and enhancing food security in the developing world.”
Sorghum is a critical source of nutrition to millions of people living in sub-Saharan Africa, but grain sorghum yields have been declining due to a lack of new varieties that are resistant to pests and pathogens. Known for its resiliency to drought and heat stress, sorghum’s natural genetic diversity makes it a promising system for identifying stress-resistance mechanisms in grasses that might have been lost during the domestication of related cereal crops.
“While the [HiSeq X Ten] system is deployed now to identify causal genetic variants in human disease, we look forward to applying it to optimize plants like sorghum,” Schmutz says.
The Illumina Agricultural Greater Good Initiative grants, launched in 2011, are awarded annually. The program spurs research that will increase the sustainability, productivity and nutritional density of  important crop and livestock species. Grant recipients receive donations of Illumina products to support their projects.
“Illumina is committed to unlocking the power of the genome to improve human health,” shares Dawn Barry, Illumina vice president of applied genomics. “This program recognizes that there is nothing more fundamental to human health than nutrition.”