Tree cheers

Published: Friday 15 October 2004

For the first time, scientists have compiled a database of gene sequences in a tree. Comprehensive research on trees is a difficult affair given their long lifespan and complex genetic make-up. This makes the 102,000-gene sequence-strong database doubly exciting. This endeavour of scientists from Sweden and the us focuses primarily on the genus Populus. It is hoped that the database will help scientists modify existing trees and come up with varieties with enhanced qualities, such as elimination of pollutants from the soil, increased production of biomass and higher yield of tree products such as paper and chemicals.

The database includes digital profiles for only 18 tissues from different parts of these trees, a fraction of the existing dna. These are crucial to understand how plant organs respond to environmental stress. The genetic make-up of the tree is similar to that of Arabidopsis, a plant from the mustard family used extensively in plant research. Knowledge on Arabidopsis might aid research on Populus. "For many environmental and economic reasons we prefer breeding trees and soon we may be able to do so genetically," says Steven H Strauss, one of the members of the research team.

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