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Advancing Alternative Energy Sources

Narrator: It's been over a year since the entire genome of the poplar tree was published. The sequencing - part of a national effort to develop alternative fuels - took place at the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute, or JGI, which is managed by the University of California.

Tuskan (Title appears onscreen): We chose the poplar tree as our first woody, perennial plant to sequence because there was an international community that has been investigating poplar for decades. There were extensive genetic maps and genetic resources available to us here that would help us or enable us to assemble the genome. We're trying to tease apart how cells are constructed so that we can more easily or readily deconstruct them, convert them into ethanol for transportation use and the genome's enabled us to do this in a more efficient and effective manner.

Narrator: The poplar tree naturally grows very rapidly.

Tuskan: We'd like to improve that, of course, and we'd like to make the plant materials more suitable to conversion to ethanol and other transportation fuels. It's growth rate can be enhanced - it's a non-domesticated organism, so applying modern techniques to accelerate the domestication, and using genomics information that we got through the sequence effort here at JGI, we've been able to demonstrate that we can double radial growth by manipulating or changing gene expression.

Narrator: Tuskan explains that growing biomass, or energy crops, will mean the creation of biomass farm

Tuskan: We envision that poplar will be grown on short rotations - not traditional, conventional forestry, but more like an agronomic crop under a three, four or five-year rotation. And they'll be planted in fields, managed as if they were agricultural crops and harvested in an agricultural manner. And so switchgrass, miscanthus, eucalyptus, poplar - all fits this criteria of short rotation, high-yielding agronomic types of species.

Narrator: Just this year, the JGI announced two more genome sequencing targets as part of their continued efforts to develop alternative species for biomass and bioenergy production.

Tuskan: The first of those is eucalyptus, so it will be second woody plant to have its genome sequenced and it's the fastest-growing, broad leaf tree species in the world. The second species is foxtail millet, which is an herbaceous, perennial grass, a very close relative to switchgrass. Both of these serve as models for the development of advanced or improved biomass feedstocks. It's a very exciting time to be working in genomics and the Joint Genome Institute is investigating these platforms and technologies and trying to uncover the most effective and efficient ways of applying these approaches to uncovering and discovering genes in microbial and plant genomes.