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Gene discovery might increase biomass

 manchester
Feb. 11, 2010, Manchester, UK – University of Manchester scientists have identified genes that make plants grow fatter and plan to use their research to increase plant biomass in trees and other species, thus helping meet the need for renewable resources.


February 11, 2010
By Canadian Biomass
manchester  
Over-expression of the CLE41 gene (right) results in more woody tissue production.


 

Feb. 11,
2010, Manchester, UK – University of Manchester scientists have identified
genes that make plants grow fatter and plan to use their research to increase
plant biomass in trees and other species, thus helping meet the need for
renewable resources.

“The
United States has set the ambitious goal of generating a third of all liquid
fuel from renewable sources by the year 2025. Estimates suggest to reach their
goal they would need 1 billion tonnes of biomass, which is a lot,” says
professor Simon Turner, one of the University of Manchester researchers whose
study, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council,
study was published in the journal Development on February 10, 2010.

“Our work
has identified the two genes that make plants grow outwards. The long, thin
cells growing down the length of a plant divide outwards, giving that nice
radial pattern of characteristic growth rings in trees. So you get a solid ring
of wood in the centre surrounded by growing cells. Now we have identified the
process by which the cells know how to grow outwards, we hope to find a way of
making that plants grow thicker quicker, giving us the increased wood production
that could be used for biofuels or other uses.”

“And
there is an added benefit. There are concerns that the growing of biofuel
products competes with essential food production. However, the part of the
plant we have studied is the stalk, not the grain, so there will be no
competition with food production.”

Turner
and Dr. Peter Etchells, at the Faculty of Life Sciences, studied the plant Arabidopsis, which does not look like a tree
but has a similar vascular system to carry water and sugar throughout the plant.
They investigated growth in the vascular bundles and found that the genes PXY
and CLE41 directed the amount and direction of cell division. Furthermore, they
found that over-expression of CLE41 caused a greater amount of growth in a well-ordered
fashion, thus increasing wood production.

“We
wanted to know how the cells divided to produce this pattern, how they ‘knew’
which side to divide along, and we found that it was down to the interaction of
these two genes,” says Turner.

“Trees
are responsive to a lot of things. They stop growing in winter and start again
in spring, and this changes according to the amount of light and the day
length. It might take a tree 150 years to grow in Finland and only 10 years in
Portugal. Now we know what genes are dictating the growth process, we can
develop a system of increasing growth so that it is orientated to produce more
wood – increasing the essential biomass needed for our future.”

The team is
now growing poplar trees in the lab to see if they fit the Arabidopsis model.
They will use these results to develop a system of increasing wood production.


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