Scientists have mapped the first complete genetic code of a tree, enhancing the prospects of using plants to produce renewable bio-fuels.
U.S. scientists, employing the latest genetic technologies, mapped the genome of the black cottonwood poplar, Populus trichocarpa, The Times reported on Friday.
The researchers have identified 93 of the plant's 45,000 genes associated with the production of cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose, chemicals that can be fermented to produce ethanol and other liquid fuels, the report said.
Manipulating these genes, by genetic engineering or selective breeding, could lead to the development of trees that produce higher quantities of bio-fuel.
The research was an important step on the road to developing practical, biologically based substitutes for gasoline and other fossil fuels, the report quoted scientists as saying.
The genome of the tree would help the development of new, fast-growing and easily processed tree strains that could be harvested for producing fuels such as ethanol, according to the report.
The poplar genome will guide scientists toward genes that control critical characteristics of the tree.
Bio-fuels of this type are renewable as they do not create net emissions of carbon dioxide, but burning them releases the greenhouse gas the same as that taken from the atmosphere by the plants used to make the fuel, the researchers said.
Fuels such as ethanol -- fuel alcohol distilled from plant products -- are also attractive because they can be home-grown and are usually liquids, making fuel alcohol a suitable alternative to petrol and diesel.
Fine-tuning plants for bio-fuels production is one of the keys to making bio-fuels economically viable and cost-effective.