More than just food for Koalas, Eucalyptus trees are already used for producing timber, fuel, medicinal and industrial oils. In a recent piece published by Reuters, Will Dunham highlights how an international team of researchers worked to unveil the genetic blueprint of the tree species Eucalyptus grandis in order to maximize its potential in biofuels.
“The main interest is understanding how these trees grow so fast and how they are able to produce such large amounts of cellulose,” said scientist Zander Myburg of the University of Pretoria’s Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute.
Approximately 80 percent of the woody biomass in a Eucalyptus is made of cellulose, and so this makes the Eucalyptus a biomass energy powerhouse.
“There’s an interest in cellulose in the context of breaking the cellulose down into sugars, which can be fermented into biofuels,” says Myburg. “But really these trees are widely used industrially for cellulose-related products and timber, pulp and paper production.”
Also called gum trees, Eucalyptus trees have grown for tens of millions of years across the Australian landscape, and are closely identified with that continent. The koala, one of Australia’s characteristic marsupials, munches its leaves. Its wood also is used in making the Australian aboriginal wind instruments called didgeridoos.
A study was published on June 11th in the journal Nature and mapped more than 36,000 predicted functioning genes (about 640 million base pairs) and identified the regions responsible for critical biological processes, controlling tree growth and wood formation, flowering and other qualities. The genome was compared to genomes of other plants with similar evolutionary history, and their findings showed that there are large genetic differences of this tree compared to others.