Danforth Center receives grant to boost sorghum harvests in Africa | St. Louis Public Radio

Danforth Center receives grant to boost sorghum harvests in Africa

Jan 25, 2017

A $6.1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will fund the Danforth Plant Science Center's research on sorghum, a staple food crop in sub-Saharan Africa. 

In several Asian and African countries, grain sorghum is essential to a person's diet. Given worldwide concerns over feeding a growing human population during a time of rising global temperatures, scientists have started paying attention to crops such as sorghum, that are highly resilient to drought and extreme heat.

"Sorghum hasn't received the decades of investment in improvement through breeding and other technologies that corn or soy has. Now we've reached a point where we have access to those technologies and can apply them to sorghum improvement," said Todd Mockler, a Danforth Center scientist who is leading research on sorghum. "This is going to be the first substantial effort involving the Danforth Center on sorghum improvement in sub-Saharan Africa."

The University of Arizona's robotic field scanner, the LemnaTec Scanalyzer, takes images of sorghum to collect data on crop growth.
Credit Provided by Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Mockler's team most recently studied the crop's potential as an energy source, during a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy's Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture program. They're planning to use the same plant breeding technologies to help increase grain sorghum yields for African farmers. 

The grant will support researchers for three years, as they sequence the genomes for about a thousand varieties of sorghum that exist in sub-Saharan Africa.  Scientists will also study how the crop grows in Missouri, Arizona, Ethiopia, Senegal, India, among other locations to see how it tolerates different environments.

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