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Wood Development Group Institute of Biotecnology Viikinkaari 1 (P.O.Box 65)
00014 University of Helsinki
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Tel: +358-9-1911
fax +358-9-1915 9366

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Yrjö Helariutta
+358-9-191 59422

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Genetic control of wood development

Wood consists of several cell types. The tracheary elements and ray parenchyma cells occur as radial files that can be traced back to the corresponding initial cells in the cambium. These cell files form gradients of cell differentiation as cells acquire more differentiated characteristics the further away they move from the cambium. We are interested in genes that regulate the various aspects of wood development.

Wood is an example of a plant conductive tissue, vascular tissue. There is quite an impressive diversity in the morphology of vascular tissue representing various plant forms. Plants are classified based on this morphology, indicating its important position in the evolution of land plants. Evolution of proper vascular tissue was a prerequisite for diversification of plant kingdom. Wood represents a climax of this evolution process. The thick cell walls of tracheary elements of wood provide both the strength and conductive properties required for a tree like life form dominating in many areas of earth. However, very related general morphology associated with slightly different cell differentiation processes can be found in the many storage roots we eat. Therefore, we believe our research contributes to environmentally sound forest managing both when wood is produced as trees in forests, as well as when wood is processed for various industrial applications. Furthermore, it may have a more general impact for agriculture.

Wood development is largely under genetic control. Understanding of this genetic control is still at a relatively poor level, and one factor contributing to this status is the challenging nature of trees as research objects. As trees typically are large, outbreeding and perennial, it is difficult to approach them at a molecular genetic level. Therefore, the classical mutant approach in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana is our primary approach. Although Arabidopsis is not a tree, all the major elements of wood development are observed during Arabidopsis ontogeny.