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Poplar genetics research could improve feedstock

Sept. 26, 2011, Vancouver – Two British Columbia researchers are making a significant contribution to the development of clean energy through their study of the genetics of the poplar tree.


September 26, 2011
By Genome BC

Sept. 26, 2011, Vancouver – Two British
Columbia researchers are making a significant contribution to the development
of clean energy through their study of the genetics of the poplar tree. In
2010, both the provincial and federal governments mandated a minimum of 5%
renewable fuel content in gasoline. Additionally, British Columbia has gone as
far as requesting both a 10% reduction in carbon emissions and a 33% reduction
in provincial greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

To help meet the mandates for cleaner
energy, Genome Canada, Genome BC, and other partners have funded a $9.8-million
research project "POPCAN: Genetic Improvement of Poplar Trees as a
Canadian Bioenergy Feedstock." Principal investigators Drs. Carl Douglas
and Shawn Mansfield, both at the University of British Columbia, are using
genomics to enhance breeding and selection of poplars to improve their
potential as a biofuel resource.

Current production of biofuels, which are
almost exclusively derived from agricultural residues, is insufficient to
produce the requisite volume. The researchers are using genomics to study tree
growth at the molecular level, as well as wood traits associated with biofuel
suitability in Populus trichocarpa and P. balsamifera, two poplar species that
span the Canadian landscape. Their aim is to develop short-rotation,
fast-growing trees that can grow in a variety of climates across Canada and
produce wood that can be more readily converted to biofuel while minimizing the
ecological footprint.

"Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada have
already translated knowledge from our research by employing selected tree
genotypes into a breeding program to analyze if key traits are handed-down to
offspring,” says Mansfield. “End-users are very much in tune with the research
outcomes and results and are willing to use the data in new breeding
strategies."

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Concurrent with the genomics research, a
team of economists led by Dr. Martin Luckert at the University of Alberta is
looking into the economic benefits of changing forestland to fast-rotation
poplar plantations. The potential payoff from a new energy crop could include
job creation and stability in rural communities.

Genome BC has funded the POPCAN project as
part of Genome Canada's 2010 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition.


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