Thursday, April 16, 2015

Undergraduate Sorghum Research

Hello, again! The Spring semester is coming to an end, and summer is approaching! I will be working as a Production Research Intern at DowAgrosciences this summer, so stay tuned for a post regarding my internship. In the meantime, I'd like to give some insight into the opportunities for undergraduate research at Purdue University, and within the Agronomy Department specifically. 

Beginning last fall, I became an undergraduate researcher in the Weil Lab working with mutant sorghum and looking at the possible genetics causes of increased digestibility levels in mutant lines. I’ve been working on the project with another Plant Genetics undergraduate, we have made steady progress on the project. 

Sorghum is a drought-resistant, heat-tolerant cereal crop important to food production in regions of sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. Sorghum is consumed in these areas in the form of porridges and fermented breads, like injera pictured below. Unlike corn, wheat, rice and other grains, sorghum has a very low rate of protein digestibility when cooked. Findings ways to improve and increase this protein digestibility has potential to improve the nutritional qualities of this important African food crop! The project that I’m working on aims at doing just this. Some mutant sorghum lines developed in the 1970s at Purdue University showed increased levels of protein digestibility compared to other commonly used cultivars. 

Above: Sorghum grain growing in the field. The head of the stalk contains the edible sorghum grain, which is the portion of the plant low in protein digestibility.

Below: Injera is a fermented sorghum bread eaten in regions of Eastern Africa. The fermentation process contributes to the increasing digestibility levels and is a means for managing the nutritional qualities with chemistry in preparing the food.

This project has been a great opportunity to understand a new crop that I hadn’t previously worked with, as well as to better understand the genetic tools used to identify mechanisms responsible for desirable agronomic traits. It's also been a great experience for building my network with other undergraduate researchers, graduate students, and faculty!

Below: In the lab, we screen for seeds with high protein digestibility by digesting the sorghum with pepsin in order to imitate human consumption and digestion. We then measure the levels of protein remaining to determine which samples had the highest digestibility levels, and can use them in later breeding projects to introduce increased digestibility properties.

This upcoming fall, a paper describing this research progress and findings--authored by myself, Hailey Edmondson, and Michael Busche, will be published in the 2015 Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research, so keep your eyes open if you want to read more!

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