How to grow sorghum that’s easier to digest

U. QUEENSLAND (AUS) — Scientists have identified a sorghum gene that could lead to the development of more digestible feedstocks for farm animals and better nutrition for some of the world’s poorest nations.

Known around the world for its drought-tolerance and florid heads of grain at harvest time, a more digestible sorghum would allow better uptake of vital nutrients.

For people living on marginalized farmland and dependent on sorghum as a fodder or food crop, these findings could prove to be life-saving, while also maximizing water and land-use efficiency.


Selecting for a specific sorghum gene could mean the grain from these hardy plants will be much easier to digest.

“Sorghum is drought tolerant and can grow in regions otherwise unfit for other cereals, but unfortunately suffers from lower digestibility compared with other cereals,” says plant scientist Professor Ian Godwin from the University of Queensland.

“Most importantly, while the gene identified appears to improve digestibility, the gene’s presence does not appear to diminish a sorghum plant’s growth or yield.”

The findings are a major boost for Queensland, with sorghum already contributing an estimated $600 million to the rural economy annually, says John McVeigh, Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

“Any improvement to the digestibility of sorghum will add value to the grain and have a knock-on effect for the myriad of rural producers who use sorghum as a feedstock.”

While the gene variant is at low frequency in most sorghum populations, it’s already in elite germplasm, arising from a sorghum pre-breeding program.

Preliminary studies have been done using a lab system which mimics monogastric digestion. The variant gene leads to higher activity of an enzyme involved in starch biosynthesis in the developing grain.

The next step in the research will be to grow significant quantities of the selected sorghum line to test its digestibility, initially, in pigs and poultry.

Source: University of Queensland