DOE begins international effort to sequence tree genome

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Feb. 4, 2002 -- Cottonwoods, hybrid poplars and aspens could play a role in improving the environment, displacing imported oil and creating domestic jobs, but first scientists from the Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and around the world have to sequence the Populus genome.

Trees like cottonwood, hybrid poplar and aspen have long been used as model organisms in forestry, and the choice of Populus as the first tree genome to sequence is due in large part to their rapid growth rate, small genome size and widespread use in areas of interest to the forest industry and DOE.

"This effort will furnish scientists both in this country and abroad with an unprecedented molecular parts list for a tree," said Jerry Tuskan, a researcher in ORNL's Environmental Sciences Division. "Such a list will provide the scientific community with a catalog of genes, knowledge as to what these genes do in trees and an exciting opportunity to better understand how trees grow."

Ultimately, this information will allow scientists to more effectively use trees to carry out important functions like carbon sequestration and enhanced production of biomass for fuels and fiber.

This project builds upon the success that DOE has had in mapping the human genome, a decade-long effort that is expected to lead to cures and the prevention of diseases in people. While sequencing the human genome took years, researchers at DOEs Joint Genome Institute, ORNL and cooperating institutions expect to make the genetic blueprint of Populus available within 18 months. And they expect the payback to be significant.

"Genetic sequencing of Populus is expected to lead to faster growing trees, trees that produce more biomass for conversion to fuels, while also sequestering carbon from the atmosphere," said Stan Wullschleger of ORNLs Environmental Sciences Division. "In addition, trees with unique traits may be used in phytoremediation, a process

Contact: Ron Walli
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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