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New genomic research to tackle supply and demand issues in emerging forestry biofuels industry
Date:8/24/2009

Saddler is confident that the solution they find for coniferous trees will be transferable to deciduous varieties as well. "The idea is that once the dead lodgepole pine starts to run out in about 20 years, we will have had enough time to replant with a fast growing variety to replace it," he says.

Enter the poplar tree. As the fastest growing tree in North America, it is one of the only species that will be ready for harvest by the time the beetle-killed conifers have run out.

Principal investigators Drs. Carl Douglas and Shawn Mansfield, both of UBC, will aim to use genomics to optimize breeding and selection of poplars to improve their potential as a biofuel resource.

Their $7.7 million project, entitled Optimized Populus Feedstocks and Novel Enzyme Systems for a BC Bioenergy Sector, will build on a foundation of previous Genome BC research, which contributed to the sequencing of the poplar genome in 2004.

In addition to their quick growth, poplars, which are native to BC and many other regions, produce wood that is easier to convert to fermentable sugars for ethanol production than conifers. The tree is also well known for its capacity to sequester carbon from the atmosphere and even to clean up contaminated waste sites.

The researchers will identify the genetic characteristics of certain wild poplars that allow their woods to be broken down more easily, and with a higher yield, so that liquid biofuels can be produced more rapidly and inexpensively, with less chemical processing.

Mansfield maintains the importance of staying ahead of the curve: "We need to be thinking about feedstock supply 10-15 years from now, so that we will have poplars ready to be harvested, which will allow us to keep up with industry demand," he says.

This research will ultimately create the basis for a poplar-breeding program to fuel the forestry bioenergy sector.

Says Douglas, "Using the poplar's genome seque
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Contact: Rachael Froese Zamperini
rzamperini@genomebc.ca
604-612-6345
Genome BC
Source:Eurekalert

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