“I think the real push in the next few years will be translating genome information into something you can burn,” says Bristow. He likens current efforts to the early days of the Human Genome Project. “We thought it would translate to new drugs. That didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen,” he says. “The genomes of biomass feedstock, degrading organisms, and fermenters are going to affect the progression of the biofuels industry.”
The JGI’s latest sequencing list includes the eucalyptus, a fast-growing tree that scientists hope can supplement or replace corn as a feedstock for biofuels. Comparing this sequence with the genome of the poplar, the only tree to be sequenced to date, will help scientists interpret both sets of DNA.
“I think we’ll make rapid progress in the development of domestic energy crops,” says Gerald Tuskan, a plant geneticist at ORNL who led the poplar-sequencing project. “We have the advantage of witnessing the development that occurred in traditional agronomic crops, so we already understand a lot of plant development and gene modification.”