Scientists Studying Genetic Blueprint of Eucalyptus for Commercial Uses

Scientists Studying Genetic Blueprint of Eucalyptus for Commercial Uses

Eucalyptus tree is known as one of the world's most important commercial sources of paper and fiber. Now, local scientists are looking forward to unfold the genetic blueprint of the eucalyptus tree to open biofuel possibilities.

The researchers also want to conduct this study to help tree-breeding programmes and have a control over the competitiveness of South Africa's forestry industry, which comprises companies like Sappi.

An international team of scientists got to know two years after sequencing the genome of the eucalyptus grandis that the genes have a significant role to play in formation of cellulose, lignin and a set of compounds called terpenes, said University of Pretoria geneticist Zander Myburg.

Trees get a distinctive scent and stay prevented from pests because of terpenes. Cellulose fibers are known as the main building block of trees and lignin helped them in holding together. Scientists are mainly concerned about cellulose because of its properties that are apt for many commercial applications. Also, it could be a future source of biofuel, said Prof Myburg, lead author of a paper published yesterday in the journal Nature.

The paper detailed some of the studies conducted on the genome since it was sequenced. It was found during a study that E. grandis genome has the highest diversity of genes for producing terpenes. Several essential oils are formed by terpenes.

"Now that we understand which genes determine specific characteristics in these trees, we can breed trees that grow faster, have higher quality wood, use water more efficiently and will cope better with climate change", said Prof. Myburg.

The US energy department primarily funded the research through its Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, California. The Department of Science and Technology, Sappi and Mondi also provided the support for the study in South Africa.

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