From Left to Right: Dario Grattapaglia, EMBRAPA; Zander Myburg, University of Pretoria; and Jerry Tuskan, Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In July 2004, these three researchers discussed sequencing eucalyptus in Tasmania. The tree in the background is a specimen of Eucalyptus regnans, which includes the tallest flowering plants in the world.
2014; Pretoria, South Africa - A researcher at the University of Pretoria (UP),
South Africa - Professor Zander Myburg - was the lead investigator in a global
project to unravel the genetic blueprint of Eucalyptus
grandis, a species from a genus of fast-growing trees commonly known as ‘gum
trees' (‘bloekoms' in Afrikaans) in South Africa.
successful sequencing of this genome will be published in the prestigious,
high-impact scientific Journal Nature
(advanced online publishing at 19:00 London time on 11 June 2014, print edition
19 June 2014).
"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," Prof Myburg explains the significance of this major
scientific milestone. "Even more, we can turn well-managed Eucalyptus
plantations into bio-factories to produce specific kinds of sought-after
materials and chemicals."
with this new knowledge about the molecular basis for superior growth and
specific adaptations in plants, we can apply the same techniques to other woody
plants that can be used as feedstock in the bio-economy of the future."
are highly adaptable and grow exceptionally fast. While native to
Australia, these trees are planted worldwide, mainly for timber, pulp
and paper production, but increasingly also for "dissolving pulp" from which a wide variety of cellulose-based industrial products from textiles to pharmaceuticals are derived.
|"In future, jumbo jets may take off
powered by renewable, Eucalyptus-based fuel."
project to sequence the Eucalyptus grandis
genome involved 80 researchers from 30 institutions across 18 countries. It
took them five years to sequence and analyse the 640 million base pair genome. Combing
through the more than 36 000 genes found in Eucalyptus,
the researchers homed in on those that may be able to boost the economic value
of the trees by influencing the production of cellulosic raw material that can
be processed for pulp, paper, biomaterials and bioenergy applications.
one of the lead organizations, the University of Pretoria is delighted with the
positive outcomes of the project and the exciting new opportunities for our genomic
research programmes," says Prof Anton Ströh, Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences
co-leaders on the project includes Prof Dario Grattapaglia of the Brazilian
Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) and Catholic University of
Brasilia; Dr Gerald Tuskan of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the
BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) and US Department of Energy Joint Genome
Institute (DOE JGI); Prof Dan Rokhsar of the DOE JGI and Dr Jeremy Schmutz of
the DOE JGI and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.
US Department of Energy was a major funder via its Joint Genome Institute in
Walnut Creek, California, where most of the DNA sequencing was done
Eucalyptus grandis - gum tree research
Eucalyptus for energy
6-year old eucalyptus trees (Scientific Name: Eucalyptus benthamii) harvested for power generation.
|"The development of new knowledge and skills in tree
genomics, and the application of that knowledge to enhance industry
competitiveness, is directly aligned with the DST's vision of a bio-economy",
says Dr Phil Mjwara, Director General of the Department of Science and
Technology. "This is a superb example of full value-chain thinking, and thus an
important investment for the Department."
Myburg's research team identified genes encoding 18 final enzymatic steps for
the production of cellulose and the hemicellulose xylan, both carbohydrates
that are enriched in wood fibre cells and can be used for biofuel production. "By
tracing their evolutionary lineages and expression in woody tissues we defined
a core set of genes for biopolymer production that are highly expressed in the
development of xylem-the woody tissue that helps channel water throughout the
plant and strengthens the tree," he explains.