John E. Carlson, Ali Barakat, Teo Best, Scott DiLoreto, Chris Frost
The Schatz Center for Tree Molecular Genetics, School of Forest Resources
The Pennsylvania State University
The optimization of woody biomass production for fuels and carbon sequestration is one of the most active areas of molecular genetics research with trees. Woody biomass represents the accumulation of lignocellulolytic material in the cell walls of stem, branch, and root tissues as they expand during seasonal growth in trees. A better understanding of the biosynthesis and polymerization of cell wall materials in trees is fundamental to efforts to enhance the production of woody biomass. The genome sequence of the model woody plant Populus provides the basis for unraveling the genetic basis of complex traits such as biomass accumulation. The genome sequence permits high throughput technologies of transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics to identify en masse the specific sets of genes in poplar that are involved in cell wall biosynthesis. Comparative and translational genomics between Arabidopsis and Populus will further facilitate the identification of the genetic basis of perennial, woody growth. Likewise, genomics information is being used to identify the genetic polymorphisms that are responsible for rapid growth and biomass accumulation in specific trees such as poplar hybrids. Insights from genomics will lead to enhanced woody biomass accumulation through biotechnology and marker-assisted genetic selection approaches within tree improvement programs.