Chromatin, Inc., announced that it has created sorghum plants containing elevated levels of the energy-rich compound farnesene.

“We have demonstrated that sorghum can be modified to produce significantly elevated quantities of farnesene relative to commercial inbred sorghum lines, a molecule that can be used to create energy-rich biofuel,” said Ken Davenport, Chromatin’s Chief Technology Officer. “To achieve this result, we added and expressed up to nine genes, creating an entire biosynthetic pathway in sorghum. Chromatin’s unique expertise in gene stacking has enabled us to combine more genes than previously reported in this crop.”

This milestone achievement was supported in part by the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program Plants Engineered To Replace Oil (PETRO). Chromatin’s scientific team, led by Ramesh Nair, presented the work today at the 2014 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit.

Like sugarcane, sorghum has traditionally been used as a source of sugars that can be subsequently converted to biofuels by microbes. By creating farnesene within sorghum, it becomes possible to bypass expensive microbial fermentation and directly harvest biofuels from the crop itself. Because sorghum can grow on over 80% of the world’s land, including marginal land with limited access to water, this innovation could lead to a global expansion of on-farm biofuel production. “With this demonstration, we can focus on making changes that increase the quantities of farnesene made within this crop, as well as in the related crop sugarcane,” said Davenport. “Further, because farnesene is part of the terpenoid pathway, we can now consider using sorghum and sugarcane to create other high-value chemicals, including fragrances, flavors, and fuels.”

Chromatin is bringing innovations to sorghum — a high-yielding and drought tolerant crop that can meet the growing demand for sustainable biomass production. Chromatin’s product pipeline includes sorghum hybrids for traditional agriculture, as well as biomass and sugar-rich hybrids designed for renewable energy applications.

“We are pleased to include farnesene sorghum as part of our product pipeline,” said Daphne Preuss, Chromatin’s CEO. “Although several years of development are required before a product launch, Chromatin’s work shows that sorghum can be developed as a biorefinery, capable of sustainable production of complex chemicals.”