The European Commission will fund a multinational project to use DNA sequencing to identify traits in certain non-food crops for drought tolerance. The EC approved $11.9 million to study the genomes of poplar, miscanthus and giant reed.

The 22 partners in the project, called WATBIO, want to aid the development of new germplasm with enhanced drought tolerance for use in bioenergy and bioproducts, reported. The University of Southampton in the United Kingdom will lead the project and will include 14 academic centers and seven small or medium-sized enterprises that will offer assistance.

Concerns over the losses caused by drought are spurring the decision to develop more drought-hardy crops.

“Our primary aim is to characterize the vast amount of DNA variation in these under-utilized crops and harness this to produce better crops,” Professor Gail Taylor, director of research for biological sciences at Southampton, said in a statement.

“Even five years ago this project wouldn’t have been possible as DNA sequencing was relatively expensive. Now we are sequencing the genome of more than 50 poplar trees, sampled from across contrasting sites in Europe, including droughted southern sites,” she added.