A paper published in Nature Food highlights the work of Illinois State University’s Professor of Genetics John Sedbrook with a team to domesticate a common weed that could produce sustainable fuel, reduce climate change, and boost rural economies.

Sedbrook is part of a collaboration of scientists and agriculture professionals working toward the domestication of pennycress, which could become a cover crop potentially planted on nearly 80 million acres of Midwestern farmland during winter months. The paper in Nature Food, titled “Identification and stacking of crucial traits required for the domestication of pennycress,” touts the positive environmental impact of the research that would also boost the economy in rural communities.

“This work nicely demonstrates how we can bring modern genetic tools to bear in rapidly domesticating pennycress from a weed into a legitimate crop to address a number of societal issues including food security, environmental degradation, and climate change,” said Sedbrook.

The Nature Food paper can be found here.

The collaborative team working together to domesticate pennycress recently received a $10 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). With the grant, Illinois State researchers will work closely with the lead institution, Western Illinois University, as well as researchers at the University of Minnesota, Ohio State University, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, the USDA, and the St. Louis-based crop development company CoverCress, Inc. Working as a group known as the Integrated Pennycress Research Enabling Farm and Energy Resilience (IPREFER), Sedbrook said the goal is to have an infrastructure in place within five years, so farmers can plant and harvest pennycress as a cover crop, and processing companies can convert the seed to fuel and feed.