Illumina, Inc. (NASDAQ: ILMN) announced that the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is the 2016 recipient of the Agricultural Greater Good Initiative grant. Their project aims to optimize breeding strategies for improving the yield and stress tolerance of grain sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), a critical source of nutrition to millions of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Illumina Agricultural Greater Good Initiative 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, PhD, Geraldine and Robert Virgil Distinguished Investigator at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and co-PI Jeremy Schmutz, at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, will study the genetic diversity of grain sorghum leveraging the HiSeq X® Ten System at HudsonAlpha. NRGene's proprietary PanMAGICTM computational platforms will be used to construct the first ever sorghum pan-genome.
Sorghum is a member of the grass family and is grown worldwide. It is of particular interest, not only because it is a staple crop in Sub-Saharan Africa, but because grain sorghum yields have been declining due to the lack of new varieties that are resistant to pests and pathogens. Sorghum is very resilient to drought and heat stress. Natural genetic diversity in sorghum makes it a promising system for identifying stress-resistance mechanisms in grasses that may have been lost during the domestication of related cereal crops.
"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," said Dr. Mockler. "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."
"It's a pleasure to work with Dr. Mockler and Illumina to sequence grain sorghum using the HiSeq X Ten system, constructed at HudsonAlpha by Dr. Shawn Levy and his team," said Mr. Schmutz. "While the system is deployed now to identify causal genetic variants in human disease, we look forward to applying it to optimize plants like sorghum, a critical crop for the socioeconomic stability and food security of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa."
"Illumina is committed to unlocking the power of the genome to improve human health. This program recognizes that there is nothing more fundamental to human health than nutrition," said Dawn Barry, VP, Applied Genomics. "We are proud to be supporting Todd Mockler's work at the Danforth Center and excited to see the HiSeq X Ten System in place at HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology being used to aid in this sequencing project. To our knowledge, this is the first time since we opened the HiSeq X technology to whole-genome sequencing of nonhuman species that it has been used to benefit a public breeding program."
The Illumina Agricultural Greater Good Initiative grants, launched in 2011, are awarded annually. The program spurs critically needed research that will increase the sustainability, productivity, and nutritional density of agriculturally important crop and livestock species. Grant recipients receive donations of Illumina products to support their projects. Applications for the 2017 Agricultural Greater Good Initiative grants will be available in Q3 2016.