"Clearly, the information we gain from this effort will benefit ongoing and future projects within DOE and open the doors to countless other opportunities to use woody plants in the pursuit of goals related to traditional forest products and even ecological preservation."
Worldwide, support for the project is high, as more than 100 scientists have indicated via the Web that they believe a poplar genome sequencing effort should be a top priority of forest research. Already, cottonwoods, hybrid poplars and aspens are being used in a variety of ways ranging from paper production to carbon sequestration to the development of fast-growing trees as a source of feedstocks for renewable bio-based products.
"I have never seen the forest genetics community more excited," said Toby Bradshaw, a molecular biologist with the University of Washington, which helped DOE lay the foundation for this effort. "The sequencing of the poplar genome will be a bonanza for researchers seeking to understand how individual genes influence the growth of trees and their adaptation to the natural environment. This knowledge might eventually be applied to the breeding of fast-growing trees capable of producing wood, fiber and energy sustainably on a small amount of land."
In addition to ORNL, participants in the international project include the Joint Genome Institute, the University of Washington, Genome Canada and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. The Joint Genome Institute sequencing facility will produce half of the sequence this year and another half in 2003.
Other ORNL researchers involved in the project are Frank Larimer of the Life Sciences Division and Lee Gunter and Zamin Yang of the Environmental Sciences Division. The research was funded by DOEs Office of Biological and Environmental Research.