Five Year Project
The five-year project, “Epigenetic Control of Drought Response in Sorghum" (EPICON), comes in the midst of an historic drought in California. During three years of field testing, researchers will investigate responses to drought at the molecular level, including how gene expression changes and which proteins and metabolites are altered.
"Historically, the genetic manipulation of crops, which is critical to increasing agricultural productivity, has concentrated on altering the plant’s genetic sequence, encoded in its DNA," said Lemaux.
"However, recent studies have shown that environmental stresses – in our case drought – can lead to epigenetic changes in a plant’s genetic information. Because epigenetic changes occur without altering the underlying DNA sequence, they allow plants to respond to a changing environment more quickly."
It is now well known that associations of specific bacteria and fungi with plants have positive effects on plant fitness. Therefore, EPICON researchers will also track changes in the sorghum-associated microbial communities to determine whether they correlate with changes that directly contribute to the crop's drought tolerance.
Researchers expect to develop better predictions about how sorghum and other cereal crops are affected by future climate scenarios, leading to approaches to improve crop growth and production under water-limiting conditions.