Feedstock Development and Production

Guayule variety trials

Purpose | Methods | Progress | Research & Results | Team

Purpose

Feedstock Development and Production

The SBAR Center of Excellence uses an integrated approach to ensure sustainable regional production of biofuels and other high-value products. The foundation of this process is improved feedstocks (raw materials to supply an industrial process) and sustainable production (cultural practices) of feedstocks. We are specifically optimizing the production of guayule and guar, both of which have been successfully cultivated in the arid regions of the Southwestern United States. Guayule (Parthenium argentatum) is a woody perennial shrub native to the Chihuahuan Desert of central Mexico and the Big Bend area of Texas. There is presently no commercial production of guayule for natural rubber; however, advances in feedstocks, co-products, and agronomic practices will support and expand the bio-economy of this industry. Guar (Cyamopsis tetragonoloba) is native to the Indian sub-continent where it grows under drought, heat, and high salinity conditions, and does well in marginal soils. These conditions and soils are also found in the production areas encompassed by this project. Guar gum is an industrial product used in food additives and drilling muds, and comes from the seed endosperm. The U.S. imports approximately 80% of its guar beans from India, but demand has increased over the past decade and domestic production will significantly help meet this demand.

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Methods

Genetics and Plant Breeding

Guayule and guar feedstock development means improving biomass quantity and quality, and yield of desired products through genetics and traditional breeding. The goal is to deploy superior genotypes to regional growers. Traditional breeding is dependent upon having genetic resources (germplasm) from which to identify useful traits. Germplasm may include lines with only one or two desirable traits, to lines that after minimal breeding have the desirable traits and uniformity to be grown commercially.

Germplasm line planted in Arizona
Germplasm line planted in Arizona.

In both guayule and guar, we are evaluating available lines from the USDA National Plant Germplasm System. Evaluation is for the major components of yield in both crops, primary products (rubber and gum), disease and insect resistance, and water use efficiency. Breeding programs will incorporate noteworthy lines/plants, and use them in the development of improved lines. In addition, we are generating new genetic diversity in guayule by taking advantage of its facultative mode of reproduction (sometimes sexual and sometimes asexual reproduction), and in guar by crossing elite lines with male-sterile plants. An additional aspect of the research is bioengineering of guayule to improve rubber yield.

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Phenotypic Characterization

tractor equipped with high throughput sensors
Taking photosynthesis measurements in guar field, New Mexico
Taking photosynthesis measurements in guar field, New Mexico.

A plant’s phenotype, its observed physical and biochemical characteristics, is a result of both its genetic makeup and environmental influences. Phenotyping germplasm is essential in plant breeding programs, but information available for guayule and guar in the USDA National Plant Germplasm System is minimal and sometimes conflicting. Thus, we are phenotyping each guayule and guar germplasm line at multiple locations, allowing for the estimation of environmental effects on different traits.

A tractor equipped with high throughput sensors to measure biomass, canopy temperature, plant height, and plant architecture is used to phenotype guayule. Other measurements include rubber/resin quantity and quality, leaf classification and leaf area index, flowering time and amount, germination ploidy, and leaf waxes.

In guar, directly measured phenotype parameters include plant height, plant architecture, stem morphology, leaf size and shape, flowering time, raceme length, pod/seed size and number, and biomass yield under different water management and planting schemes. These data will not only be invaluable in breeding programs, but will help in deciding traits/lines best suited for different environments and cultural practices in the southwestern United States.

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Reduce or Eliminate Flowering in Guayule

Guayule samples
New studies: flowering-related genes' expression in field plants. Tissues sampled for 2 year old and ca. 6 month old plants; gene expression studies pending.

A novel approach to improve biomass quantity and quality, and potentially rubber and resin quantity and quality, is to reduce or eliminate flowering in guayule. Guayule flowers indeterminately (when water is not limiting), and flowers can account for up to 10% of the total biomass at harvest. However, flowering structures contain less than 1% of the total rubber in the plant. Thus, we hypothesize that by reducing flowering, the photosynthate used to produce flowers would be available to add biomass and possibly rubber at harvest. The objective of this aspect of the project is to reduce or eliminate flowering in guayule by controlling the expression of flowering-related genes. Candidate genes to be down-regulated have been identified, constructs necessary for transformation created, and transformations are underway.

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Sustainable Feedstock Production

Common questions from growers considering a new crop are: (1) how much and when should we irrigate, and (2) how do we control weeds, and other insect/pest problems? Thus, much of our work is focused on answering these questions.

Irrigation Efficiency Management:

irrigation trials
Aerial view of guar irrigation research plots at Clovis, New Mexico.
Aerial view of guar irrigation research plots at Clovis, New Mexico.

We are conducting irrigation and remote sensing experiments in both drip and furrow irrigated guayule and guar on different soil types. With potential future decline in available irrigation water, it is now imperative to conduct multiple trials to assess different delivery systems, irrigation amounts/regimes, and timing of irrigation to maximize yield and water use efficiency. From this information, we will develop an app to assist growers in making decisions about irrigation, salinity, and nutrient management.

Herbicides:

Herbicide trials conducted on guayule seedlings in Eloy, Arizona - A Herbicide trials conducted on guayule seedlings in Eloy, Arizona - B
Herbicide trials conducted on guayule seedlings in Eloy, Arizona.

Guar is a minor crop that has been grown commercially in the southwestern U.S. there are nine herbicides registered for use in guar. Guayule is a newer crop in which tolerance to herbicides was originally assessed by typically spraying young, 8-inch guayule transplants. There are currently three herbicides and one defoliant registered for use in guayule based on this research. Controlling early season weeds is critical due to the slow growth of guayule seedlings. In absence of herbicides, weed control requires expensive hand weeding. Since guayule is now direct seeded, we are focused on determining the herbicide tolerance of germinating and small seedlings during crop establishment. Additional preemergence and postemergence herbicides will be tested and registered herbicides will be retested for guayule tolerance during germination and stand establishment including the tolerance of very young guayule seedlings (2 to 6 leaf plants) to postemergence herbicides.

Expanding the Growing Range:

Expanding the cultivation range of guayule and guar is important, and addressed by understanding and testing for cold tolerance among the available germplasm lines. In guayule, we will use metabolomics to understand cold stress and acclimation, using time course data collected and plants screened at -8°C and -9°C, with hundreds of metabolites analyzed from acclimated and non-acclimated plants, and from plants that are freeze tolerant. Soil temperature for germination is the major limiting factor in expanding the growing range of guar. We will germinate (in an incubator) six elite guar cultivars at germination temperatures from 10°C-24°C (50°F-75°F). The results will then be used in test plantings at latitudes north of the present growing range.

Optimum Plant Densities:

Guar seedlings in a planting density study, Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Guar seedlings in a planting density study, Las Cruces, New Mexico.

New varieties and establishment systems require a reassessment of cultural practices such as planting density in both guayule and guar. In guayule, two lines are direct seeded at two locations and thinned to 3, 6, 12, 18, and 30in. spacing between plants. Guar lines with different plant architecture (branching, basal branching, non-branching) demand new tests looking at different plant densities and distance between rows.

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Soil Health

The soil microbiome community affects plant growth and health, and plants have a corresponding effect on the soil microbiome community. Dryland ecosystems, such as the desert southwestern United States, occupy nearly half of the Earth’s surface. A recent survey confirmed that increasing aridity reduces the diversity of soil bacteria and fungi in dryland soils. Optimization of production will depend on understanding the desert soil microbial communities essential to supporting plant health and nutrient cycling, and how they change under different cultural practices. We will analyze microbial diversity and temporal diversity, and identify key microbial community populations in soil samples collected from guayule and guar plots. This will allow us to monitor the impacts of our agricultural management practices on the integrity of the soil microbiome, and correlate the soil microbiome with plant growth and productivity.

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Progress Made Thus Far

The Feedstock Development & Production Team have established plants of guayule and guar germplasm at locations in Arizona and New Mexico, with the objective of evaluating yield when grown under different environmental conditions.

Greenhouse trials to identify desirable genetic traits in guayule germplasm, University of Arizona.
Greenhouse trials to identify desirable genetic traits in guayule germplasm, University of Arizona.

Phenotypic evaluation of guayule germplasm includes germination at 10 different temperatures (to identify the optimum planting temperature), continued ploidy analyses, and leaf shape characterization. The Vegetation Index Phenology (VIP) website processes drone images, and allow us to collect and compare remote sensing and hand collected phenotypic data throughout the season.

Aerial view of guar research plots at Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Aerial view (drone survey composite image) of guar research plots at Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Toward reducing flowering, we have identified candidate genes, expressing vectors created, and transformations performed. Guayule and guar irrigation experiments are underway. Two guayule irrigation experiments include five subsurface drip irrigation treatments (50%, 75%, 100%, 125%, and 150% of ET), and one flood treatment (100% ET) (ET = evapotranspiration). These fields are allowing us to develop crop coefficients to optimize irrigation in different soil types, and evaluate soil health.

In addition to soil moisture and canopy measurements, we are evaluating soils for physical, chemical, and biological profiles. By taking 54 soil samples in each field, we have established a baseline that will allow us to understand the effect of irrigation on soil parameters, and the effect of soil parameters on guayule growth rate, and biomass, rubber, and resin production. Data are incorporated into the WINDS model (Water-use, Irrigation, Nitrogen, Drainage, and Salinity), that will ultimately result in the development of a web-based app to help in irrigation scheduling.

Soil texturing in process.
Soil texturing in process.

The guar irrigation studies investigate the response to moisture stress, and compare establishment and growth looking at pre-irrigation treatments and irrigation applied at various growth stages.

Herbicide studies on two different soil types (a fine-textured clay soil, and a course-textured sandy soil) have yielded data on herbicide damage to guayule seedlings. The six herbicides (acetochlor, bensulide, ethalfluralin, pendimethalin, s-metolachlor, and sulfentrazone) investigated were applied either pre-emergent or incorporated pre-plant. Another test evaluated tolerance of guayule to carfentrazone applied at 2, 3.6, 5.6 and 10.4 leaves per plant. We established plant density trials in both guayule and guar, focusing on agronomic and physiological responses to planting densities.

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Research and Results

Posters and presentations

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Team

Principal Investigators

Name Affiliation
Hussein Abdel-Haleem USDA-ARS, US Arid Land Agricultural Research Center
Sangamesh (Sangu) Angadi New Mexico State University
David Dierig Bridgestone Americas, Inc.
Kulbhushan Grover New Mexico State University
Leslie Gunatilaka University of Arizona
Omar Holguin New Mexico State University
Raina Maier University of Arizona
Bill McCloskey University of Arizona
Colleen McMahan USDA-ARS, Western Regional Research Center
Julia Nielson University of Arizona
Kim Ogden University of Arizona
Duke Pauli University of Arizona
Dennis Ray University of Arizona
Peter Waller University of Arizona

Associated Researchers and Key Personnel

Name Affiliation
Von Mark Cruz Bridgestone Americas, Inc.
Stefan Dittmar Bridgestone Americas, Inc.
Niu Dong USDA-ARS, Western Regional Research Center
Diaa El-Shikha University of Arizona
Claire Heinitz USDA-ARS, San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center
Jiahuai (Alex) Hu University of Arizona
Doug Hunsaker USDA-ARS, US Arid Land Agricultural Research Center
Amber Lynch Bridgestone Americas, Inc.
Andrew Nelson University of Arizona
Bryan Pastor University of Arizona
Grisel Ponciano USDA-ARS, Western Regional Research Center
Sarocha (Mimi) Pradyawong University of Arizona
Carl Schmalzel University of Arizona
Theresa Sullivan Bridgestone Americas, Inc.
Valerie Teetor University of Arizona
Sam Wang Bridgestone Americas, Inc.

Students

Name Affiliation
Valerie Bailey New Mexico State University
Megan Bennett University of Arizona
Kyle Brown University of Arizona
German Coronado University of Arizona
Blase Evancho University of Arizona
Alonso Garcia New Mexico State University
Daryan Godfrey University of Arizona
Matt Katterman University of Arizona
Hadiqa Maqsood University of Arizona
Madison Montes University of Arizona
Quinn Waltz University of Arizona
John Willmon University of Arizona

Interns

Name Affiliation
Adrianna Chambers Central Arizona College, Arizona
George Chong USDA-ARS, Western Regional Research Center
Wenzhe Mi Salpointe Catholic High School, Arizona
Kyra Skuse Chandler High School, Arizona
Jocelyn Zhu Bridgestone Americas, Inc., Arizona

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