Mitch R TuinstraMitch Tuinstra

Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics

Wickersham Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Research

Scientific Director  Plant Science Research and Education Pipeline

Department: Agronomy
Phone: 765.494.9093
Office: Lilly 2-377
Plant Sciences Initiative:

Curriculum Vitae​
Area of Expertise: Translational Genomics for Crop Improvement



Dr. Mitch Tuinstra is the Wickersham Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Research and Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics in the Department of Agronomy at Purdue University.  He studies how crop plants grow in stressful environments. Although farmers have faced the challenges of droughts and heat waves for thousands of years, there is mounting concern that changes in our climate may hamper agricultural productivity in the United States and around the world. Dr. Tuinstra and his collaborators are responding to these concerns with efforts to develop "climate resilient" cultivars of maize and sorghum that will contribute to the adaptation of agriculture to warmer and drier environments.  His research focuses on identifying genes and genetic resources that contribute to improved crop performance in stressful environments.  This work is done in collaboration with scientists and breeders in North America, Africa and Asia.


Research Areas

Late-Season drought tolerance in maize and sorghum 

The ability of a plant to postpone senescence under late-season drought is commonly defined as 'stay-green'.  Stay-green is correlated with enhanced crop productivity, grain quality, and lodging resistance in many crops.  Retention of green leaf tissue is known as visual stay-green, whereas functional stay-green is defined by maintenance of photosynthetically active tissue.  The goal of our research is to characterize the expression and genetic architecture of stay-green in maize and sorghum.  This knowledge will be applied to improving drought tolerance of these and other crops through marker-assisted selection and potentially transgenic approaches.

Maize exhibits substantial genetic variation for stay-green.  Joint linkage mapping has been used to identify multiple QTL for stay-green across several linkage groups with sources of stay-green alleles coming from diverse genetic backgrounds.  Comparisons between maize and sorghum for map positions of stay-green QTL indicate that two of the major loci occur in syntenous regions.  Identification and integration of stay-green genes into commercial programs provides the opportunity to sustainably enhance the productivity of maize and sorghum in drought environments. 

Heat tolerant maize for Asia 

Climate change is forcing changes in agriculture and food production.  Increasing temperatures are one of the prominent problems associated with climate change. Heat stress in maize can influence the overall health and production of the crop with yield losses realized through premature senescence of vegetative and reproductive structures. The Heat Tolerant Maize for Asia (HTMA) project is a Global Development Alliance to increase our understanding of heat stress tolerance in maize with partners including CIMMYT, Purdue University, and Pioneer Hi-Bred was well as partners in the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) and seed companies from South Asia through the support of USAID.  The partners are collaborating in research to understand heat stress tolerance at the physiological and genetic level and to create superior maize hybrids that thrive under these conditions.   

Developing a functional gene discovery platform for sorghum improvement

Tremendous gaps remain in our understanding of the valuable traits contained in sorghum genetic resources. Advances in genomics, targeted mutagenesis, reverse genetics and whole-genome DNA sequencing can enable efficient gene discovery and germplasm mining for crop improvement.  With support of the BMGF, we are developing genetic and genomic resources that can be used to leverage the phenotypic variation in sorghum.  By developing tools in the genome-sequenced variety BTx623 and elite germplasm adapted for Africa, this project accelerates the ability of sorghum researchers to translate knowledge into practical applications in sorghum improvement.

Using this resource, African breeding programs will identify candidate genes impacting traits of value to them, easily survey alleles of those genes in sequence-indexed collections of EMS mutants and diversity panels of local and globally important lines and landraces. The best alleles for improving their target trait can then be crossed into locally adapted breeding stocks. In addition, African laboratories and breeding programs will be trained in the informatics tools needed to use rapidly expanding and available genomics databases to enable more rapid and more effective sorghum breeding.

Automated Sorghum Phenotyping and Trait Development Platform

Bottlenecks in our ability to collect accurate, high-resolution, phenotypic data on energy crops such as sorghum limit how efficiently we can combine this information with genomic data to identify, and as necessary modify, the genes and alleles needed to produce superior strains for cultivation. More specifically, enabling the capacity to use sensing data from ground-based mobile and airborne platforms for automated phenotyping would greatly advance plant breeding to maximize energy potential for transportation fuel. Our interdisciplinary team at Purdue University, with support from our industrial partner, IBM Research, and a consultant, Scott Chapman, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia's national science agency, are developing an automated, high-throughput system, called the Automated Sorghum Phenotyping and Trait Development Platform, which is designed to help end users quantify variations in sorghum field performance and agricultural productivity and detect associations in the sorghum genome. We will develop this disruptive technology system based on airborne and ground-based mobile sensor systems whose accuracy in collecting relevant phenotypic data will be confirmed during development by ground referenced measurements obtained by our phenotyping teams using in situ and near proximal sensors as well as biomass harvester yield data. 

Modifying dhurrin metabolism in sorghum 

Dhurrin accumulation in sorghum plant tissues negatively impacts forage quality for animal production.  A genetic mutant of sorghum that does not accumulate dhurrin was reported by Blomstedt et al. (2012).  This mutant was described as a P414L mutation in CYP79A1 but the mutant was reported to grow more slowly than wild-type plants.  We have conducted forward genetic screens of a chemically mutagenized sorghum population and identified several new genetic variants that disrupt dhurrin metabolism. Whole genome resequencing experiments demonstrated that one of these variants harbored a C493Y mutation in CYP79A1 that disrupts dhurrin biosynthesis.  Plants with this mutation do not exhibit a slow-growth phenotype.  This mutation may provide a new genetic resource for eliminating dhurrin production in sorghum to improve feed, forage, and bioenergy feedstock value. 


Use of seed treatment and acetolactate synthase herbicide tolerance traits for managing witchweed (Striga spp.) infestations in sorghum

Weed management is one of the most important considerations impacting sorghum production today.  In Africa, witchweed (Striga spp.) infestations are a growing menace for cereal crop producers across the continent.  One new and very promising Striga management technology involves use of herbicide tolerance traits for managing this weed.  Low-dose imazapyr or metsulfuron seed coatings applied to herbicide tolerant varieties have been shown to be highly effective in controlling Striga infestation in field and greenhouse trials.  Locally-adapted varieties that couple host-plant resistance to Striga with herbicide seed treatments are being developed to identify the combination of traits that maximizes the efficacy of control.


New stable-dwarf sorghum varieties

Sorghum plant height is a quantitative trait controlled by four major genes (Dw1:Dw2:Dw3:Dw4).  Nearly all of the grain sorghum grown in the developed world is produced using semi-dwarf cultivars.  These cultivars commonly are called "3-dwarf" sorghum since they utilize recessive dwarfing alleles at three of the four major dwarfing genes (dw1:Dw2:dw3:dw4).  Karper (1932) was the first to note that the dw3 mutation produced a useful dwarf phenotype, but also noted that dw3 was unstable and frequently reverted to wild-type Dw3.  These plants are tall and generally referred to as "height mutants".  Farmers dislike height mutants because these off-types are unsightly in commercial grain production fields.  Commercial seed producers do not like height mutants because of the effort and cost required to rogue these plants from seed production fields.  These management efforts increase the "cost-of-goods" and, in some cases, seed lots must be destroyed if the frequency of off-types is too high.  A novel dw3 allele (dw3-sd2) with a 6-bp deletion in the coding region of gene has been identified.  This new allele is being incorporated into elite sorghum parent lines for deployment in commercial hybrids.


Professional Positions  

2013 – present     Scientific Director, Plant Science Research and Education Pipeline, College of Agriculture, Purdue University​
2007 – present     Wickersham Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Research, Department of Agronomy, Purdue University
2007 – present     Professor, Department of Agronomy, Purdue University
2006 – 2007            Professor, Department of Agronomy, Kansas State University
2001 – 2005            Associate Professor, Department of Agronomy, Kansas State University
1997 – 2001            Assistant Professor, Department of Agronomy, Kansas State University
1997                     Post-Doctoral Fellow, Department of Agronomy, Purdue University
1991 – 1996            Research and Teaching Assistant, Purdue University



AGRY 520: Principles of Plant Breeding
AGRY 285: World Crop Adaptation and Distribution


Honors and Awards

Wickersham Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Research, Purdue University, 2007, 2015​
Seeds for Success, Purdue University, 2009, 2013,2014
Gamma Sigma Delta – Early Career Award, 2001
Fellow, Gamma Sigma Delta – The Honor Society of Agriculture, 1994
McKnight Doctoral Fellowship, McKnight Foundation, 1994 


Recent Publications

Krothapalli K, Buescher EM, Li X, Brown E, Chapple C, Dilkes BP, Tuinstra MR. 2013. Dhurrinase2 is required for cyanide release from Sorghum bicolor. Genetics 195: 309–318.

Kaufman RC, Herald TJ, Bean SR, Wilson JD, Tuinstra MR. 2013. Variability in tannin content, chemistry and activity in a diverse group of tannin containing sorghum cultivars. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 93: 1233-1241.

Pontieri P, Mamone G, De Caro S, Tuinstra MR, Roemer E, Okot J, De Vita P, Ficco DBM, Alifano P, Pignone D, Massardo DR, Del Giudice L. 2013. Sorghum, a healthy and gluten-free food for celiac patients as demonstrated by genome, biochemical, and immunochemical analyses.  Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 61: 2565-2571.

Sukumaran S, Xiang W, Bean SR, Pedersen JF, Tuinstra MR, Tesso TT, Hamblin MT, Yu J. 2012.  Association mapping for grain quality in a diverse Sorghum collection. Plant Genome 5: 126-135. doi: 10.3835/plantgenome2012.07.0016.

Barrero Farfan ID, Johal G, Tuinstra MR. 2012. A stable dw3 allele in sorghum and a molecular marker to facilitate selection. Crop Science 52: 2063-2069. doi:10.2135/cropsci2011.12.0631.

Wu Y, Xianran L, Xiang W, Zhu C, Lin Z, Wu Y, Li J, Pandravada S, Ridder DD, Bai G, Wang M, Trick H, Bean S, Tuinstra MR, Tesso T, Yu J. 2012. Presence of tannins in sorghum grains is conditioned by different natural alleles of Tan1. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 109: 10281–10286. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1201700109.

Lin Z, Li X, Wang ML, Bai G, Li J, Clemente TE, Trick HN, Tuinstra MR, Tesso TT, White F, Yu J. 2012. Parallel domestication of SHATTERING1 gene in crops. Nature Genetics 44: 720-724. doi:10.1038/ng.2281.

Kershner KS, Al-Khatib K, Krothapalli K, Tuinstra MR.  2012. Genetic resistance to acetyl-coenzyme A carboxylase-inhibiting herbicides in grain sorghum. Crop Science 52: 64-73.

Mutava RN, Prasad PVV, Tuinstra MR, Kofoid KD, Yua J. 2011. Characterization of sorghum genotypes for traits related to drought tolerance. Field Crops Research 123: 10 -18.

Wang M, Zhu C; Barkley N, Chen Z, Erpelding J, Murray S, Tuinstra MR, Tesso T, Pederson G, Yu J. 2009. Genetic diversity and population structure analysis of accessions in the U.S. historic sweet sorghum collection. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 120: 13-23.

Tuinstra MR, Soumana S, Al-Khatib K, Kapran I, Toure A, van Ast A, Bastiaan L, Ochanda NW, Salami I, Kayentao M, Dembele S. 2009. Efficacy of Herbicide Seed Treatments for Controlling Striga Infestation of Sorghum. Crop Science 49: 923-929.

Wu X, Zhao R, Liu L, Bean S, Seib PA, McLaren J, Madl R, Tuinstra MR, Lenz M, Wang D. 2008. Effects of growing location and irrigation on attributes and ethanol yields of selected grain sorghums. Cereal Chemistry 85: 495-501.

Prasad PVV, Pisipati SR, Mutava RN, Tuinstra MR. 2008. Sensitivity of grain sorghum to high temperature stress during reproductive development. Crop Science 48: 1911-1917.

Casa AM, Pressoira G, Brown P, Mitchell SE, Rooney WL, Tuinstra MR, Franks CD, Kresovich S. 2008. Community Resources and Strategies for Association Mapping in Sorghum. Crop Science 48: 30-34.

Zhana X, Wang D, Tuinstra MR, Bean S, Seib PA, Sund XS. 2003.  Ethanol and lactic acid production as affected by sorghum genotype and location. Industrial Crops and Products 18: 245-255. 

Reed JD, Tuinstra MR, McLaren NW, Kofoid KD, Ochanda NW, Claflin LE. 2002. Analysis of combining ability for ergot resistance in sorghum. Crop Science 42:1818-1823.

Hicks C, Tuinstra MR, Pedersen JF, Dowell FE, Kofoid KD. 2002.  Genetic analysis of feed quality and seed weight of sorghum inbred lines and hybrids using analytical methods and NIRS. Euphytica 127:31-40.

Tuinstra MR, Wedel J. 2000. Estimation of pollen viability in grain sorghum. Crop Science 40: 968-970.

Tuinstra MR, Ejeta G, Goldsbrough PB. 1998. Evaluation of near-isogenic sorghum lines differing at loci associated with drought tolerance. Crop Science 38: 835-842.

Tuinstra MR, Ejeta G, Goldsbrough PB. 1997. Heterogeneous Inbred Family (HIF) Analysis:  An approach for developing near-isogenic lines that differ at quantitative trait loci. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 95: 1005-1011.

Tuinstra MR, Grote EM, Goldsbrough PB, Ejeta G. 1997. Genetic analysis of post-flowering drought tolerance and components of grain development in sorghum. Molecular Breeding 3:439-448.

Tuinstra MR, Grote EM, Goldsbrough PB, Ejeta G. 1996. Identification of Quantitative Trait Loci Associated with Pre-flowering Drought Tolerance in Sorghum. Crop Science 36(5): 1337-1344.