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BEST-L  September 2006

BEST-L September 2006

Subject:

Energy Does Grow on Trees

From:

"HUMPHREY,STEPHEN R" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

HUMPHREY,STEPHEN R

Date:

Thu, 14 Sep 2006 15:00:36 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (142 lines)

So, a question for all you life-cycle analysts is, Where do all 
the carbon atoms go?

--
HUMPHREY,STEPHEN R

From the University of Florida
News Desk www.news.ufl.edu
[log in to unmask]
352-392-0186, fax 392-3358
101 Tigert Hall / Box 113075
Gainesville, FL  32611-3075

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,
[log in to unmask]


GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Road warriors, it may be time to hug a tree. 
In a
few years, you could find yourself filling your gas tank with 
ethanol
derived from specially bred black cottonwood trees -- and at 
prices not
seen since the 1990s.

Researchers from the University of Florida's Institute of Food 
and
Agricultural Sciences, in conjunction with 33 scientific 
institutions
worldwide, have mapped out the genome of the black cottonwood 
tree, a
prime candidate for use in new "biomass" fuel production methods 
that
could someday cut our reliance on petroleum and reduce pollution.

The research, featured on the cover of the Sept. 15 issue of the 
journal
Science, identifies genes that can be specifically selected 
through
traditional plant breeding to produce trees with the perfect 
qualities
for efficient conversion into biomass fuel.

For example, one method developed by UF researcher Lonnie Ingram 
uses
genetically engineered bacteria to convert substances in the 
tree's cell
walls into ethanol and other useful chemicals. The work isn't 
just
pie-in-the-sky idealism. He is collaborating with 
Massachusetts-based
Celunol Corp. to build a 20-million-gallon biomass-to-ethanol 
plant in
Jennings, La., expected to be operational by spring 2007.

The genomic research revealed 93 genes that help control the 
production
of these cell wall substances. By breeding trees with just the 
right
variation of these genes, researchers can produce the ideal energy 
cash
crop that could help replace as much as half of the oil imported 
into
the United States.

"We are not talking about a genetically modified organism," said 
John
Mark Davis, one of three UF researchers who collaborated on the 
project.
"This is a wild tree, and there's
enough genetic variation already out there for us to get the plant 
we
want without direct genetic manipulation."

In ideal environments, the trees already grow rapidly, as much as 
12
feet in a year, and can reach maturity in as little as four years. 
But
the genome could also mean breeding trees that respond well to 
less than
ideal environments. The result could be a new type of crop that 
could be
grown through the somewhat economically depressed Midwestern and 
Pacific
Northwest states, said UF researcher Matias Kirst.

Of course, vast farms of the black cottonwood would come with 
another
advantage other than cleaner-burning, cheaper fuel-the trees, like 
all
plants, absorb the most significant greenhouse gas, carbon 
dioxide. They
then store the carbon in their stems, roots and the soil.

"Basically, you would have a fuel source for our cars that, in the 
big
picture, could help capture almost as much carbon dioxide as it
produces," said UF researcher Gary Peter. "That would go a long 
way in
slowing the biggest driver of global warming."

The effort to sequence the black cottonwood's genome was funded by 
the
U.S. Department of Energy and included institutions such as Oak 
Ridge
National Laboratory, the University of British Columbia and Ghent
University in Belgium. It is part of a broader effort to replace 
30
percent of the fuel burned in the U.S. with biomass fuels by 
2030.

This is only the third plant genome to be sequenced, and contains 
nearly
four times more genetic information than that of either rice or
Arabidopsis thaliana, a flowering weed. More than 45,000 genes 
were
identified-that's twice the number identified in the human genome, 
which
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 
specific
genes must still be grown, tested and harvested. Peter, Davis and 
Kirst
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 
said.
"And that takes time."

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