Senior Lecturer, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
PhD: Duke University
Postdoctoral Training: USDA and University of California Berkeley
Grasses have for millennia provided humans with food, feed, and fiber. Increasingly, grasses are also becoming a source of fuel. My research interests focus on achieving a clearer understanding of bioenergy-relevant traits, including biomass accumulation and cell wall composition, structure, and dynamics. To elucidate the genes controlling these traits, we use the model Brachypodium distachyon. Brachypodium – related to wheat and native to the Mediterranean region – is a small, annual grass with a compact, sequenced genome and abundant genetic resources. Brachypodium also exhibits tremendous natural variation in traits important for bioenergy. To mine this diversity, we are performing extensive phenotyping, including a microbial assay (a simultaneous saccharification and fermentation assay) to test how well plant material is converted to ethanol and other products. We are combining these data with an emerging wealth of genome sequence information to map the genetic loci underlying the phenotypic diversity. By elucidating biomass quantity and quality traits in a model grass, we aim to contribute to the knowledge base necessary to improve plants for sustainable bioenergy production.