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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Federal grant funds Ohio State study of plant biofuel potential

The U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of Agriculture have selected Ohio State researchers for a $1.16 million grant to investigate the bioenergy potential of the plant pennycress.

Ana Alonso, associate professor of molecular genetics, will lead a team with colleagues Erich Grotewold, professor of molecular genetics and of horticulture and crop science, and Ajay Shah, assistant professor of food, agricultural and biological engineering, in the project, called “Development of Resources and Tools to Improve Oil Content and Quality in Pennycress.”

Alonso directs the Targeted Metabolomics Laboratory in the Center for Applied Plant Sciences; Grotewold is director of CAPS and the Arabidopsis Biological Resource Center.

The goal of this research is to address the need for an alternative supply of jet fuel using native plants that do not compete with food crops. Pennycress (Thlaspi arvense), a member of the Brassicaceae, has been identified as a promising bioenergy crop, and the chemical composition of its oil is ideally suited as a renewable source of biodiesel and jet fuel. However, for pennycress (photo, left: Pennycress plant, a silicle containing seeds, and mature seeds storing a type of oil suitable for jet fuel) to become an economically viable source of specialty fuels, the Ohio State researchers need to develop molecular and genetic resources to facilitate and enhance oil production by breeding and/or genetic manipulation. They also will develop a public seed collection of pennycress mutants and transgenic lines as a community resource for accelerating research.

The team also includes Enkhtuul Tsogtbaatar, a graduate research associate in molecular genetics, who, supported by funding from the Office of Energy and Environment, developed and validated culture conditions to grow pennycress embryos in vitro in presence of labeled carbon sources. She is currently analyzing the labeling that is incorporated in the embryo to unravel the biochemical pathways that are involved in to oil production.