Alex Johnson, a  4th year graduate student in the Devos lab, has been awarded a 2-year USDA-AFRI pre-doctoral fellowship on “The role of microRNAs in regulating arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal colonization levels in switchgrass.” In recent years, around 40% of U.S corn cultivation has been allocated to biofuel production. Reducing the burden on agricultural lands to fuel the United States is a current goal for plant scientists. Switchgrass, a herbaceous bioenergy feedstock, is well suited to grow on poor soils. 70-90% of all land plants, including switchgrass, from symbiotic relationships with arbuscular mycorrhizae (AM), which live inside the roots of host plants and help the plant acquire nutrients more effectively.

We have identified switchgrass lines that vary in their ability to form AM associations, and understanding the genetic factors that cause these differences could be useful for plant breeders seeking to develop switchgrass with low input requirements. This project uses cutting edge genomics techniques to study regulatory molecules called microRNAs (miRNA), and how they regulate genetic pathways that control AM levels in switchgrass.

Nice job, Alex!