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Large, fast-growing poplar trees and other woody plants are desirable starting points, or feedstocks, for producing transportation fuels. The challenge is that the wood-forming materials resist chemical breakdown. Overcoming this recalcitrance is a main goal in bioenergy feedstocks research. Scientists took on this challenge by examining how gene regulatory networks control a plant’s resistance to breakdown. They developed two new methods to understand the recalcitrance of woody material.
These approaches will expedite molecular genetics protocols in the model woody plant and bioenergy feedstock, the western balsam poplar or Populus trichocarpa, and facilitate essential genome-wide studies of wood formation and biomass productivity. The methods should broadly apply to other woody species, enabling comparative analyses of the evolution of genetic regulation and modifications relating to or arising from nongenetic influences. Understanding these processes will aid efforts to develop higher biomass-yielding feedstocks.