Science News

Eucalyptus genome revealed

Thu, 10th Jul 2014

Kat Arney

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And finally, eucalyptus trees are more than just food for hungry koalas. Made up of more than 700 species grown in 100 countries around the world, they’re also a useful, fast growing source of biofuels and hardwood as well as antiseptic oils - not to mention traditional Aboriginal didgeridoos. Now a consortium of more than 80 researchers from 18 countries have decoded the genome sequence of Eucalyptus grandis.

Reporting in the journal Nature, the researchers trawled through the trees’ 36,000 genes, homing in on those involved in producing cellulose and lignin - the tough molecules that are used to create paper, pulp and other biomaterials. The scientists hope that by understanding how eucalyptus trees make these woody fibres, grow so fast and adapt to different environments, they could shed light on improving trees elsewhere, particularly as they adapt to a changing climate.

And as an added bonus, the researchers also uncovered the genes that create oily molecules called terpenes, responsible for the eucalyptus’ distinctive smell. With a bit of tweaking, these terpenes could potentially be used to feed into processes for making jet fuel. So maybe one day your plane trip to see koalas in their native habitat could be fuelled by the trees they feed on.

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