Scientists have, for the first time, discovered a gene that contributes to the 'coppicing response' of willows - the ability to make new growth when cut back to their base or stump.
Willows grow fast, produce high yields, need little fertilizer and easily re-grow after being coppiced, or cut back - qualities which make willow hugely important for commercial use as renewable and sustainable biomass for bioenergy.
'Coppicing response' - the rate and type of new growth following cut back - is critical to these energy crops as it enables willows to be grown in three year harvesting cycles, affects vigour and yield, along with the ratio of bark to wood in the stem.
Despite its importance, the genetic regulation of coppicing response is little understood. Now, a team of plant scientists from the Sainsbury Laboratory, in collaboration with Rothamsted Research, have used knowledge and methodologies from the model plant species Arabidopsis to identify SxMAX4 as the first coppicing response gene known to date.
The study was funded by the BBSRC Crop Science Initiative, and is published today in the Plant Biotechnology Journal.
The latest findings demonstrate that great results can be achieved from exploitation of the vast body of knowledge in this model, and by combining plant molecular biology with genetic mapping approaches, say the researchers.