So, a question for all you life-cycle analysts is, Where do all
the carbon atoms go?
From the University of Florida
News Desk www.news.ufl.edu
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352-392-0186, fax 392-3358
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Energy does grow on trees
Sep. 14, 2006 / Photo available at http://news.ifas.ufl.edu
By Stu Hutson, 352-392-0400, [log in to unmask]
Sources: John Mark Davis, 352-846-0879, [log in to unmask]
Gary Frank Peter, 352-846-0896, [log in to unmask]
Matias Kirst, 352-846-0900, [log in to unmask]
Lonnie Ingram, 352-392-8176, [log in to unmask]
Celunol Corp. Media Relations, 781-461-5700,
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Road warriors, it may be time to hug a tree.
few years, you could find yourself filling your gas tank with
derived from specially bred black cottonwood trees -- and at
seen since the 1990s.
Researchers from the University of Florida's Institute of Food
Agricultural Sciences, in conjunction with 33 scientific
worldwide, have mapped out the genome of the black cottonwood
prime candidate for use in new "biomass" fuel production methods
could someday cut our reliance on petroleum and reduce pollution.
The research, featured on the cover of the Sept. 15 issue of the
Science, identifies genes that can be specifically selected
traditional plant breeding to produce trees with the perfect
for efficient conversion into biomass fuel.
For example, one method developed by UF researcher Lonnie Ingram
genetically engineered bacteria to convert substances in the
walls into ethanol and other useful chemicals. The work isn't
pie-in-the-sky idealism. He is collaborating with
Celunol Corp. to build a 20-million-gallon biomass-to-ethanol
Jennings, La., expected to be operational by spring 2007.
The genomic research revealed 93 genes that help control the
of these cell wall substances. By breeding trees with just the
variation of these genes, researchers can produce the ideal energy
crop that could help replace as much as half of the oil imported
the United States.
"We are not talking about a genetically modified organism," said
Mark Davis, one of three UF researchers who collaborated on the
"This is a wild tree, and there's
enough genetic variation already out there for us to get the plant
want without direct genetic manipulation."
In ideal environments, the trees already grow rapidly, as much as
feet in a year, and can reach maturity in as little as four years.
the genome could also mean breeding trees that respond well to
ideal environments. The result could be a new type of crop that
grown through the somewhat economically depressed Midwestern and
Northwest states, said UF researcher Matias Kirst.
Of course, vast farms of the black cottonwood would come with
advantage other than cleaner-burning, cheaper fuel-the trees, like
plants, absorb the most significant greenhouse gas, carbon
then store the carbon in their stems, roots and the soil.
"Basically, you would have a fuel source for our cars that, in the
picture, could help capture almost as much carbon dioxide as it
produces," said UF researcher Gary Peter. "That would go a long
slowing the biggest driver of global warming."
The effort to sequence the black cottonwood's genome was funded by
U.S. Department of Energy and included institutions such as Oak
National Laboratory, the University of British Columbia and Ghent
University in Belgium. It is part of a broader effort to replace
percent of the fuel burned in the U.S. with biomass fuels by
This is only the third plant genome to be sequenced, and contains
four times more genetic information than that of either rice or
Arabidopsis thaliana, a flowering weed. More than 45,000 genes
identified-that's twice the number identified in the human genome,
is six times larger than that of the cottonwood.
There is still much work to do before the genome is completely
understood. Computers have helped identify which genes may be
responsible for certain characteristics, but trees with those
genes must still be grown, tested and harvested. Peter, Davis and
are growing thousands of trees with hundreds of different genetic
variations in an environmentally controlled greenhouse.
"We've done the groundwork, now we need to do the growing," Davis
"And that takes time."