In The News

The U.S. Department of Energy awards Baskin grant to study cellulose, the most abundant polymer on Earth, in Brachypodium

Biology professor Tobias Baskin has received two new grant awards. He received a $510,000 grant from U.S. Department of Energy (Office of Basic Energy Sciences) for a project entitled "Cellulose and the Control of Growth Anisotropy". This award is a competitive renewal for an on-going project that attempts to understand how the mechanical properties of the cell wall are established by Brachypodium distachyon and how these properties influence the fundamental process of growth.

Undergraduate Brachypodium researcher Mike Veling wins prestigious Goldwater Scholarship Award

Since his freshman year in 2009, Mike Veling has worked in Dr. Samuel Hazen’s laboratory in the Biology Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Mike, a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology junior, is interested in protein-DNA interactions that influence plant biofuel attributes. Recently he gave the inaugural presentation at the 4th Annual Northeast Undergraduate Research Development Symposium in Buddeford, ME. His efforts have been supported by research fellowships from the Commonwealth Honors College. Now he will enjoy up to $7,500 per year for up to two years support from the Goldwater Foundation.

The purpose of the Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence Program is to nurture and recognize distinction in mathematics, science, and engineering by awarding scholarships to undergraduates that intend to pursue careers in these areas. A total of 1,123 students were nominated by their colleges and universities and 282 were selected for scholarships. Other University of Massachusetts awardees include Microbiology major Benjamin Waldman and Mathematics major Nicolas Zac Reyes. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major Saul Kushinsky was acknowledged by the Goldwater Scholarship Foundation with Honorable Mention.

Some brachy strains are more easily converted to ethanol than others

UMass Brachypodium Consortium microbiologists and plant biologists teamed up to develop an assay to measure the feedstock quality of plant biomass. Clostridium phytofermentans is a soil bacterium isolated from Harvard Forest in Massachusetts by Tom Warnick and Sue Leschine. Remarkable characteristics of this bacterium include the ability to degrade essentially all plant polysaccharides and produce copious amount of ethanol. The Hazen lab demonstrated that some mutants of the energy crop sorghum were converted to ethanol more quickly than normal varieties. They also showed similar differences in ethanol production in the energy crop shrub willow and among different accession of Brachypodium distachyon. This approach is now being used to characterize mutants and genetic mapping populations and potentially energy crop breeding programs.

Brachypodium expert Ludmila Tyler joins UMass Consortium

Dr. Ludmila Tyler joined the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Consortium beginning this year, 2012. She hales from Dr. John Vogel’s USDA laboratory, perhaps the most prolific B. distachyon group in the world. She is a leading expert in the field of trait and genetic diversity found within the species and managed a project conducted by the DOE – Joint Genome Institute to sequence the genomes of over 50 different strains. At UMass, Dr. Tyler will continue to explore bioenergy-relevant crop traits using natural and induced genetic variation in B. distachyon.

US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute and UMass initiate project to develop biofuel research tools

This venture will create a collection of grass transcription factor genes to facilitate energy crop research using the model system Brachypodium distachyon. Transcription factors are proteins that regulate gene expression, and the B. distachyon transcription factors targeted in this project are implicated in grass cell wall biosynthesis and the regulation of growth and biomass accumulation. Samuel Hazen and collaborators Todd Mockler at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and Steve Kay at the University of California San Diego will use this project as the cornerstone of a new high-throughout platform for analyzing protein-DNA interactions for the purpose of understanding important traits in grass species.