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Tree genome sequence in eighteen months
Edward R. Winstead


The US Department of Energy (DOE) is leading an international project to sequence the genome of a Populus tree by the end of next year. The Populus genus includes poplars, cottonwoods, and aspens—fast-growing trees that are widely used in forestry research. These trees grow up to four meters in height per year, produce seeds prolifically, and can be genetically modified in the laboratory. The tree to be sequenced is a female Populus balsamifera (black cottonwood, or balsam poplar) known as ‘Nisqually-1’, named for the Washington state river along which she was found growing in 1995.

Populus balsamifera, the species to be sequenced.

The genome sequence will be a basic research tool for studying all aspects of tree biology. For example, the sequence will be used to identify genes related to commercially important traits, such as growth, and genes involved in biological processes related to adaptation to the environment. Fast-growing trees are a renewable energy source that could lessen dependence on fossil fuels, and they influence the health of the climate by sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Other participants in the Poplar Genome Project include the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the Joint Genome Institute in California, the University of Washington in Seattle, Genome Canada, and the Umeå Plant Science Center in Sweden.

Among the commercially important trees, Populus species have relatively small genomes—about 550 million base pairs in length. A team at the Joint Genome Institute will finish the sequence by the end of 2002, according to a statement by DOE. Populus will be one of the first plant genomes to be completely sequenced, and the first tree whose genome is known in such detail.

See related GNN article
»The Redwood genome

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DOE begins international effort to sequence tree genome. Press release, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee (February 4, 2002).

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