Our goal is to transform plant breeding by advancing the science of phenotyping. Phenotypes are measurable features that indicate how they will grow and respond to stresses such as heat, drought, and pathogens. Breeding is currently limited by the speed at which phenotypes can be measured, and the information that can be extracted from these measurements. Currently, measurements used to predict yield include measuring leaf thickness with a caliper or height with a meter stick. More sophisticated instruments used to quantify plant architecture, carbon uptake, water use, and root growth do not scale to the thousands or tens of thousands of individual plants that need to be evaluated in a breeding program.

We will develop an integrated phenotyping system for energy Sorghum that leverages genetics and breeding, automation, remote plant sensing, genomics, and computational analytics. The complete system will include: 1) the reference field phenotyping system (GFE gantry system) provided by ARPA-E; 2) field- and controlled-environment phenotyping of energy Sorghum; 3) computational solutions for phenotype selection and prediction; 4) genetics, genomics and bioinformatics for phenotype-to-genotype trait associations; 5) data processing and computational workflows for integrated phenotyping systems; and 6) phenotyping data and computational pipeline standards developed by a committee selected in collaboration with the TERRA program.

Phenotyping will focus on traits that drive yield gain and bioenergy potential and will be conducted under field and controlled environmental conditions using a sorghum diversity panel, biparental cross populations, and elite lines and hybrids from structured breeding populations. This reference system will be used to characterize phenotype-to-genotype associations, on a genomic scale, that will enable knowledge-driven breeding and the development of higher-yielding energy cultivars. Although the system will initially be used to improve energy sorghum, it is directly extendable to other crops of economic and energy significance. When combined with marker-assisted breeding and genome-wide selection for sorghum improvement, this system will increase the bioenergy contribution to our total energy supply and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.