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Genome BC Providing $33M for Forest, Biofuel Genomics Projects

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Genome British Columbia has pumped C$32.6 million (US$32.6 million) into four new projects focused on tree genomics for forestry and biofuel applications, including research into the genomes of poplar and spruce trees, forest microbial life, and tree adaptability.

In one project, Genome BC researchers will use C$9.8 million to study the genetics of two poplar species that are widely spread across Canada. They will focus on discovering how trees grow at the molecular level and study biofuel-friendly wood traits in order to develop short-rotation, fast-growing trees in a variety of climates across Canada which could provide wood that can be easily converted into biofuels.

University of British Columbia botany Professor Carl Douglas said in a statement that the genomics research will search for "genes and gene variants related to the desired traits of growth and biomass that would allow us to select stocks more amenable to the bioconversion process used to generate biofuels, such as ethanol."

Another grant will provide C$7.8 million to study how microbial diversity may be involved in forest biomass resources. The researchers will focus on studies of the microorganisms found in forest soil that naturally degrade biomass, which could be used to develop better forest management practices and improve lignin-based products.

In another project, Genome BC will provide C$4.7 million to researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta to sequence seedlings in order to discover genes involved in adaptation to climate changes in lodgepole pine and spruce, which are important trees in western Canada.

The new funding also includes C$10.3 million to UBC and Université Laval for studying how marker-aided selection could affect Canadian spruce plantations. It is thought that using marker-aided selection could dramatically boost wood yield and regional GDP and create jobs in rural areas, because it allows wood to be cultivated in smaller areas, according to Genome BC.

"In this new project, we will take previous and new discoveries in conifer genomics to applications in spruce breeding programs in Canada," UBC Project Leader Jörg Bohlmann said. "Our applications are targeting conifer breeding for improved insect and disease resistance, wood quality, and adaptation to changing climates."

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