Saturday, July 7, 2007

Scientists up a gum tree over Eucalyptus origins

Scientists up a gum tree over Eucalyptus origins
Wed Jul 4, 2007 7:57AM BST
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian and international scientists have launched a search for the genetic secrets of the humble Eucalyptus tree, which is native to Australia and highly prized as a source of fibre for producing paper.

The Australian government-backed Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) said on Wednesday that an international effort had begun to decode the Eucalyptus genome.

"We are identifying the trees that have superior genes that influence the way wood is developed," CSIRO scientist Simon Southerton said.

"Qualities like wood stiffness, density, pulp yield, responsiveness to stresses such as salt and drought and overall growth rates will be linked with particular genes, making future breeding programmes more efficient," he said.

The scientific effort will not involve genetic modification, involves two dozen institutions worldwide. It is led by Alexander Myburg of the University of Pretoria in South Africa, with the support of the United States Department of Energy.

Australian scientists, in conjunction with counterparts in New Zealand, will be among the first to collaborate on the project, CSIRO said.

The project would have long-term benefits for both the Australian plantation sector and the conservation of native forests, Southerton said.

The Eucalyptus tree is Australia's contribution to the world's forest industries and virtually all eucalypts are endemic to Australia.

With over 700 different species, eucalypts include some of the fastest growing woody plants in the world. Covering about 18 million hectares (45 million acres) in 90 countries, they are one of the most widely used plantation forest trees, CSIRO said.

More than 130 scientists from 18 countries are taking party in the programme.

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