Poplar's extraordinarily rapid growth, and its relatively compact genome size of 480 million nucleotide units, 40 times smaller than the genome of pine, are among the many features that led researchers to target poplar as a model crop for biofuels production.
"Under optimal conditions, poplars can add a dozen feet of growth each year and reach maturity in as few as four years, permitting selective breeding for large-scale sustainable plantation forestry," said Dr. Sam Foster of the U.S. Forest Service. "This rapid growth coupled with conversion of the lignocellulosic portion of the plant to ethanol has the potential to provide a renewable energy resource along with a reduction of greenhouse gases."
"The challenge of global warming requires global solutions," said Martin Godbout, President, Genome Canada. "The international consortium that successfully sequenced the poplar genome provides a model for great minds working together and serves as an example of how discovery science can be applied to current environmental problems facing humanity."
Among the major discoveries yielded from the poplar project is the identification of over 45,000 protein-coding genes, more than any other organism sequenced to date, approximately twice as many as present in the human genome (which has a genome six times larger than the poplar's). The research team identified 93 genes associated with the production of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, the building blocks of plant cell walls. The biopolymers cellulose and hemicellulose constitute the most abundant organic materials on earth, which by enzymatic action, can be broken down into sugars that in turn can be fermented into alcohol and distilled to yield fuel-quality etha
Source:DOE/Joint Genome Institute