Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Ron Walli (wallira@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


ORNL receives $1 million for biofuels research with poplars

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., June 19, 2007 — Through a better understanding of photoreceptors that influence the shape and growth of poplar trees, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory hope to improve crop yields for ethanol production.

A recently announced three-year $1.04 million ORNL project is part of an $8.3 million Department of Energy and Department of Agriculture joint program aimed at accelerating the development of alternative fuel resources. As one of the 11 projects, ORNL and partners Oregon State University and West Virginia University seek to determine the genetic basis and molecular controls of the shade-avoidance syndrome in hybrid poplar.

"The shade-avoidance syndrome is a complex and poorly understood set of reactions whereby plants sense and compete with their neighbors for light," said Udaya Kalluri, a member of ORNL's Environmental Sciences Division.

Through this project, ORNL researchers and partners hope to understand the impacts of the shade-avoidance on plant productivity as the tree directs resources toward stem elongation and away from harvestable portions of the tree. Such basic research has important implications for maximizing carbon capture per unit land area, researchers said.

ORNL researchers Jerry Tuskan, Stan Wullschleger and Kalluri plan to harness the recently sequenced Populus genome to learn more about the molecular action of phytochromes, photoreceptors through which plants perceive their light environment. Ultimately, this work will lead to a conceptual model of how plants compete for light and contribute to the development of high-yielding plant varieties that maintain productivity in dense stands.

This and the other awards were made through the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in DOE's Office of Science and USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service National Research Initiative. Information on other 10 research projects and the joint program is available at http://genomicsgtl.energy.gov/research/DOEUSDA/index.shtml.

UT-Battelle manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the Department of Energy.