K-State researchers work to advance biofuel production with $1.9 million grant

Food, Farms and Biofuels
Food, Farms and Biofuels(25 News Now)
Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 7:44 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) - Researchers at K-State will work to advance the production of biofuels with a new $1.9 million grant.

Kansas State University says two of its researchers are now part of a 5-year collaborative grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to improve oilseed crops to be used as biofuels and other bioproducts.

K-State indicated that Timothy Durrett, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, and Ruth Welti, university distinguished professor of biology, were granted nearly $1.9 million to better understand how changing the biochemistry of oilseed plants alters oil production.

The University noted that the research group is working with camelina and pennycress - non-food oilseed crops - which can be used as cover crops by farmers.

Durrett said the plants have not benefited from the breeding that has increased yield in other crops. He said the research will help better understand how the plants synthesize fatty acids to make lipids as they improve oil production and crop profitability.

As part of the collaboration, K-State said the professors will work to efficiently produce transgenic plants. Current research methods alter plant biochemistry at random spots in their DNA and Durrett hopes to make the genetic engineering process more predictable and efficient.

“We will implement cutting-edge plant synthetic biology,” Durrett said. “If we can insert the genetic changes in the same spot every time, it makes testing the effect that much easier. By understanding fundamental plant biochemical concepts, we can then apply these to other plant species as well.”

Welti, director of the Kansas Lipidomics Research Center at K-State, said she will analyze how the oils change in the altered plants.

“In my lab, I can get a snapshot of how the plants are responding to changes that are being introduced genetically,” Welti said. “This project will really help scientists understand the overall principles and rules of fatty acid and oil production in oilseed plants.”

The pair stressed that camelina and pennycress can be integrated into a traditional rotation and do not interfere with food production.

“If we are making biofuels or bioproducts, we don’t want to compete with food production,” Durrett said. “A cover crop by itself it will protect the soil from wind and runoff, but with these oilseed crops farmers also earn additional income.”