A project to develop drought-tolerant poplar trees that can be grown on dry marginal land recently was awarded a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Poplar trees may be grown as a crop and used in the production of bioenergy. The grant will support work on poplar trees at the University of California-Davis and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Researchers will first determine the “perfect tree” for droughty environments. Then they plan to link the tree to genomic targets using clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats-Cas9 gene-editing tools. The research will benefit from more than a decade of research on poplar trees in the United States and Europe. More than 2,000 trees from naturally droughty environments already have been selected. Wild germplasm already has been used in several deoxyribonucleic acid-sequencing projects.

University of California-Davis researchers will plant poplar trees in a 10-acre field. They will study responses to drought. They will use remote and proximal technologies such as unmanned-aerial vehicles to assess canopy temperature. The technologies will be complemented by computational resources at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The researchers plan to deliver new poplar genotypes better able to tolerate drought. They plan to expand testing to multiple sites by the end of the project. Genetic resources already available in poplar will be integrated into rapid-throughput drought phenotyping and an atlas of gene expression related to drought stress for natural populations. Visit ucdavis.edu or ornl.gov for more information.

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