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Eucalyptus Is a Global Tree For Fuel And Fiber

Update Date: Jun 12, 2014 11:06 AM EDT

Eucalyptus is one of the most widely planted hardwood trees and that's because its myriad use that range from antiseptic oils to the construction of didgeridoos. 

Recently, researchers from all over the world collaborated to sequence and analyze the 640 million base pair genome of Eucalyptus grandis. 

Combing through the 36,000-plus genes found in Eucalyptus (nearly twice as many as in the human genome), the researchers homed in on those that may influence the production of secondary cell wall material that can be processed for pulp, paper, bio-materials and bio-energy applications, press release added. 

"A major challenge for achieving a sustainable energy future is our understanding of the molecular basis of superior growth and adaptation in woody plants suitable for biomass production," said Zander Myburg of the University of Pretoria (South Africa), in the press release. 

They noted that around 80 percent of the woody biomass in a Eucalyptus is made of cellulose and hemicellulose - both long chains of sugars. The remaining biomass is primarily composed of lignin - the tough glue that holds is all together.

"Our comparative analysis of the complex traits associated with the Eucalyptus genome and other large perennials offers new opportunities for accelerating breeding cycles for sustainable biomass productivity and optimal wood quality," noted Dario Grattapaglia of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) and Catholic University of Brasilia. "In addition, insights into the trees' evolutionary history and adaptation are improving our understanding of their response to environmental change, providing strategies to diminish the negative environmental impacts that threaten many species."

"We have a keen interest in how wood is formed," said ORNL's Jerry Tuskan. "A major determinant of industrial processing efficiency lies in the composition and cross-linking of biopolymers in the thick secondary cell walls of woody fibers. Our analysis provides a much more comprehensive understanding of the genetic control of carbon allocation towards cell wall biopolymers in woody plants-a crucial step toward the development of future biomass crops."

According to the study, an ancient whole-genome duplication event might have occurred about 110 million years ago. 

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