New genomic research to forecast the potential and pitfalls of an emerging forestry biofuels industry



    WHISTLER, BC, June 29 /CNW/ - As Canada and the world begin to reduce
their dependence on fossil fuels, the emerging bioenergy sector faces a key
challenge: the sheer volume of biomass required to produce biofuels, and how
to guarantee a steady supply.
    A new research project largely funded by Genome Canada, Genome BC and
Genome Alberta will tackle this problem, by developing genomic tools that will
allow a more strategic approach to resource planning.
    Canada's conifer forests form the largest renewable source of "woody
plant" feedstock for the national bioenergy sector, for which BC and Alberta
forests constitute a large percentage. Their sustainable use for biofuel
production would help economically diversify the forestry sector and reduce
dependence on fossil fuels.
    But predicting and guaranteeing sources of feedstock is complicated by
natural and environmental factors, such as the current mountain pine beetle
epidemic which has devastated more than 14 million hectares of pine forests,
crossed BC's Rocky Mountain barrier into Alberta, and is now poised to
threaten Canada's vast boreal forest.
    Dr. Joerg Bohlmann (UBC) is co-leading this project along with Dr. Janice
Cooke (U of Alberta). "We are currently faced with millions of hectares of
dead trees, and have a surplus of potential bioenergy feedstock, but this does
not guarantee a supply for the future. The question is: what are we going
replant with?" says Bohlmann.
    The $7.8 million dollar research project spans universities and
scientific institutions across BC and Alberta, and will create tools for the
prediction of available sources of feedstock so that investments in bioenergy
are made in the right place and at the right time.
    "This is where genomic tools can help us be more strategic in terms of
how we plan feedstock development in our forests - taking into account a
holistic approach: biodiversity of our forests, climate change and pest
prevalence - to name a few," Dr. Bohlmann adds.
    The research project titled, Genomics-Enhanced Forecasting Tools to
Secure Canada's Near-Term Lignocellulosic Feedstock Supply for Bioenergy using
the Mountain Pine Beetle System, will study the current mountain pine beetle
epidemic in search of genomics information on pine trees, bark beetles, and
associated fungal pathogens: all biological components of an overall disease
system that has had devastating effects on feedstock quality and supply.
    This work will form the basis of improved environmental risk assessment
tools, which resource managers can use to help them determine the geographic
areas that will be threatened next, and help inform long-term forecasts.
    Government and industry will have immediate access to the resources and
tools developed in this project, which will potentially lead to applications
in less than five years of project completion, expected in the fall of 2012.
    "The integrated genomics, risk modeling and economics approach of this
project is innovative and novel on an international scale," says Dr. Alan
Winter, Genome BC's President and CEO. "This project will build on
well-established, multidisciplinary expertise and will further Canada's
international leadership in forest health genomics as it relates to renewable
bioenergy production."
    The project will deliver a high level of preparedness far beyond the
current MPB epidemic and into other jurisdictions of forestry and agriculture
and will build on previous and ongoing studies of the mountain pine beetle
through the Tria Project (www.thetriaproject.ca), also funded by Genome BC and
Genome Alberta.

    
    For more information about Genome Canada, visit www.genomecanada.ca

    For more information about Genome BC, visit www.genomebc.ca

    For more information about Genome Alberta, visit www.genomealberta.ca

    NOTE TO EDITORS:

    Project leaders Dr. Joerg Bohlmann and Dr. Janice Cooke will be available
    for interviews following the announcement of this project at the Whistler
    IUFRO Tree Biotech Conference.

    Media are invited to attend. Telephone interviews and photos available on
    request.

    Date/Time: Monday, June 29th, 2009, 9:50 a.m.
    Place: The Westin Resort and Spa, Whistler - 4090 Whistler Way,
    Whistler, BC


    BACKGROUND INFORMATION
    

    The recent mountain pine beetle outbreak in British Columbia, now
spreading into Alberta, has caused unprecedented damage to the Canadian forest
industry.
    The current infestation has affected more than 14 million hectares of
pine forests and is the largest such epidemic in recorded history. Conifer
forests are Canada's largest renewable source of ligno-cellulose, used for
energy production, paper and wood products.
    Understanding the biology of the mountain pine beetle in order to use
that knowledge for anticipating and helping to control future outbreaks is an
important contribution to Canadian forest economics, particularly related to
energy production.
    Although massive amounts of dead timber from the mountain pine beetle
epidemic have created an unexpected surplus of potential energy feedstock,
this will not necessarily provide a sustainable feedstock supply in the
future.
    Before strategic investments are made in the forest industry, current
methods of predicting feedstock need to be improved. The mountain pine beetle
infestation has three interacting components: the host trees, lodge-pole pine
and jack pine, the beetle itself and multiple beetle-associated tree-killing
fungal species.
    The Genome Canada/Genome BC study has four parts. First, extensive
genomic studies of all three organisms will be carried out, with an emphasis
on genes that are important in their interaction. Second, this information
will be used to build a map that shows the inter-relationships of populations
of these organisms in relation to geographic location, time, environment and
climate. Third, the above information will be used to create models that could
forecast the likelihood of a mountain pine beetle outbreak in any location at
a particular time. Finally, all of this information will guide an analysis of
the economics of forest use for energy production.
    A unique aspect of this project is the research team's ability to combine
all the genetic and genomic data with geographic and economic information to
provide a detailed picture of the threat of a mountain pine beetle outbreak.
    The overall goal of this applied genomics project is to generate new
genomics-based information and tools for improved prediction of renewable
energy feedstock supply from conifer forests, using the current mountain pine
beetle epidemic as an example of an important host-pest-pathogen system.

    
    PROJECT LEADER BIOGRAPHIES

    Dr. Joerg Bohlmann
    

    Dr. Joerg Bohlmann was recruited to the University of British Columbia
Biotechnology Laboratory, now the Michael Smith Laboratories, in 2000 as
Assistant Professor for Plant and Tree Biotechnology. He has academic
appointments in the UBC Departments of Forest Sciences and Botany and he is
also an associate faculty member in the UBC Wine Research Centre.
    Dr. Bohlmann received his PhD in 1995 from the Technical University of
Braunschweig (Germany). From 1995 until 1998, he was holding a
Feodor-Lynen-Fellowship of the Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation to work with
Dr. Rodney Croteau at the Institute of Biological Chemistry at Washington
State University, Pullman (USA). From 1998 to 2000, Dr. Bohlmann was a junior
group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena
(Germany).
    Since 1995, Dr. Bohlmann has established a research program on chemical
defense mechanisms of forest trees, including conifers and poplar. Research in
his laboratories includes programs in forestry genomics, natural product
biochemistry, and molecular biology of plant defense. Dr. Bohlmann has won
several national and international awards. He has given numerous invited
lectures and seminars around the world. Dr. Bohlmann holds several patents
from his research on plant and tree biotechnology.

    Dr. Janice Cooke

    Dr. Janice Cooke joined the University of Alberta in 2005 as an Assistant
Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. She received her PhD in
1998, also from the University of Alberta, before completing postdoctoral
fellowships at the University of Florida and at the University of Laval.
    Dr. Cooke has focused her research on physiological genomics of trees
including spruce, pine, and poplar. Trees perceive a multitude of
environmental cues and respond to these by reconfiguring gene expression
programs that affect growth, yield, and defense responses. Her research
integrates genomic, molecular, proteomic, biochemical, and physiological
approaches to investigate responses of trees to environmental conditions.
Programs in her laboratory include forestry genomics, mechanisms of nutrient
and resource allocation, and molecular physiology of tree defense responses.

    
    ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

    Project Title: Genomics-Enhanced Forecasting Tools to Secure Canada's
Near- Term Lignocellulosic Feedstock Supply for Bioenergy using the Mountain
Pine Beetle System

    Project Value: $7,795,145

    Primary Project Funding: Genome Canada

    Co-Funding:

    -   Genome BC
    -   Genome Alberta
    -   University of Alberta
    -   Joint Genome Institute (US Dept. of Energy)

    Involved Research Institutions: University of British Columbia, University
of Alberta, University of Northern BC, Natural Resources Canada Canadian
Forest Service, Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre at the BC Cancer Agency.

    Fields of Activity: Bioenergy, Forestry, Environment
    





For further information:

For further information: Media contacts: Rachael Froese Zamperini,
Communications Consultant, Genome BC, (604) 612-6345, or
rzamperini@genomebc.ca; Hélène Meilleur, Acting Director, Communications &
Event Management, Genome Canada, hmeilleur@genomecanada.ca; Mike Spear,
Director of Corporate Communications, Genome Alberta, mspear@genomealberta.ca

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