At the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, scientists are genetically engineering these crops so that they produce oil instead of sugar.
Sorghum and sugar are both widely used crop plants that produce a small amount of oil, but they are mostly farmed for food purposes rather than used for fuel. The University of Illinois is looking to change that.
Dr. Stephen Long, a genomics biology professor at the university in Urbana-Champaign, heads the project, and the goal is to enhance the oil-producing qualities of sorghum and sugar so that they produce more oil than sugar or starch. This would make these varieties of sorghum and sugar into major oil crops, which could provide a significant source of fuel for the U.S.
The oil these plants would produce would mainly be used for jet fuel and biodiesel, but this could still make a significant impact on the fuel economy of the U.S. These varieties of sorghum and sugar would be genetically modified not only to produce far more oil than before, they would also be tolerant to colder temperatures, as well as more efficient when using light energy during photosynthesis. The cold tolerance is especially important, because sorghum and sugar are crops that are grown more easily in warmer climates, especially sugar. Sugar is not a plant that normally grows in a midwestern climate at all, but if it is tolerant to cold, that can change. This would not only enable sugar to grow here as an oil crop, it would also enable sugar to be grown in Illinois in general, adding another crop to boost our economy.