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Domesticated tree crops may be the 'future of forestry'

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The trees of the future may stem from advances in gene discovery research at Purdue University that could lead to domesticated trees, the forestry equivalent of crop plants like corn and soybeans.

"I think this is the future of forestry," said Richard Meilan, an associate professor of molecular physiology with Purdue's Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center who has demonstrated a way to rapidly identify genes in poplar trees and determine their function.

"Our goal in gene discovery is to domesticate trees, just like we have domesticated corn over the past 5,000 years," he said. "If we can produce trees for specific purposes, like making furniture or plywood, and intensively manage those trees like agricultural row crops, we can make more efficient use of our limited land resources without treading on wilderness areas."

Identifying gene function is the first step in eventually developing trees with many ideal characteristics, such as insect resistance, improved wood properties or delayed flower production, and then producing multiple trees with those traits, he said.

Meilan and his colleagues used two related techniques known as "gene trapping" and "enhancer trapping" to identify genes in this study. He reported the application of these techniques in the current issue of the journal Plant Physiology.

While these techniques have previously been used to identify gene function in Arabidopsis, a common research plant, this is the first time these methods have been used in any type of tree, he said.

Gene and enhancer trapping are alternatives to classical approaches in developmental genetics, the field of biology that determines which genes activate various processes and pathways in living organisms.

Classical approaches typically require the production of numerous mutant plants and the identification of genes responsible for traits that differ between mutant and normal plants. This
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Contact: Jennifer Cutraro
jcutraro@purdue.edu
765-496-2050
Purdue University
10-May-2004


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