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Joint advances

A FAPESP-Fapemig agreement approves the first ethanol research projects

Eduardo CesarDrought tolerance and sequencing: research targetsEduardo Cesar

Two research projects involving the University of São Paulo (USP), the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and the Federal University of Viçosa (UFV) are included in an agreement that has been signed between the research protection foundations of São Paulo (FAPESP) and Minas Gerais (Fapemig). This agreement forms part of the FAPESP Research Program in Bioenergy (Bioen), a major investigation effort aimed at improving the productivity of Brazilian ethanol and advancing both in basic science as well as in the development of technology related to power generation from biomass (see Pesquisa FAPESP nº 149). The groups will work over the next two years on a new stage in the genetic sequencing of sugar cane and to understand the defense mechanisms of cane to a shortage of water.

One of the projects involves a partnership between USP and UFV. Glaucia Mendes Souza, from USP’s Institute of Chemistry, and Márcio Henrique Pereira Barbosa, from the Agrarian Sciences Center at UFV, led the initiative, which will rework FAPESP’s Sugar Cane Genome Project (SucEST) using currently available technology. The project was carried out between 1999 and 2003 and recorded 238,000 expressed sequence tags (ESTs), segments that correspond to the expressed genome of sugar cane varieties. “The work of SucEST can now be redone in just two days thanks to the 454 pyrosequencer we have available at USP”, said Glaucia, referring to a piece of equipment that allows genomes of various organisms to be sequenced more cheaply and rapidly. “This time three varieties of cane will be sequenced”, she says.

Glaucia and Marcio Barbosa have been working together since 2007 on a Project funded by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), which also involves researchers from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and from Ridesa (Inter-university Network for Development of the Sugar and Alcohol Sector). The partnership between the researchers from São Paulo and Minas Gerais should help with interpretation of the complete sequencing data of sugar cane genes, an on-going program that involves research groups from Brazil, France, the United States and Australia.

Another project that has been approved is trying to understand how sugar cane defends itself when it comes under stress because of a lack of water, which results in a drop in productivity. “Existing studies already indicate the strategies used. Some plants roll up their leaves, while others modify their root architecture. But the molecular basis of this process is little known”, said Marcelo Menossi Teixeira, a professor at the Institute of Biology at Unicamp, who is leading the project in  partnership with Marcelo Ehlers Loureiro, from the Biological and Health Sciences Center at UFV. “We’re going to try and study the regulating genes that may be linked to the plant’s response to hydric stress.” Four varieties of cane will be studied, two of which are drought-tolerant and the other two, sensitive to a lack of water. The researchers from Minas Gerais will carry out physiological studies, while those from Campinas will work in the genetic field. “Each will work within his own area of expertise, but the project will also serve as an exchange of experiences, such as training the students from one group in the specialization of the other”, says Menossi Teixeira.

The so-called FAPESP-Fapemig agreement has two timetables. Both foundations submitted their projects by 1 September 2008. Other projects are being evaluated because the bid notice provided for a second round of projects by November 10. The two foundations made available R$ 5 million for the agreement, divided equally between them.