NREL's Tool Combines Precision and Speed
The path toward an ultra-fast, ultra-sophisticated screening tool went through ArborGen, one of the nation's largest tree seedling suppliers. "They sent us some samples and asked, 'What can you tell us about them?'" Davis said.
Turns out, it was a lot more than ArborGen expected.
"We put the samples in our mass spectrometer, which looked at their genetic transformations and the associated cell-wall chemistry changes," Davis said. They discerned dozens of changes in transgenic biomass samples, each slight genetic tweak corresponding with a slight difference in the amount of lignin in the sample.
NREL was able to tell ArborGen that one sample had, say, half the lignin of another sample. "We were giving them information in a week that it took a month or two for them to get somewhere else," Davis said. "Not only that, but we were getting better information and greater chemical specificity and resolution than they had seen before."
An Explosion in Demand for Quick Sampling
NREL had previously partnered with scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Florida, and the University of California, Davis, to demonstrate that the HTAP method could combine with genetic information to identify genetic markers associated with cell wall chemistry traits. NREL's pyrolysis combined with a mass spectrometer was a big improvement over the old method of using wet chemistry to analyze, but the approach wasn't nearly fast enough to meet demand.
It still took a week to analyze samples from just 250 trees. "We were doing everything manually in a heated furnace," Davis said. "A single person would stand there all day feeding in samples." Even with this approach, the method that would soon evolve into HTAP identified numerous genetic markers associat
|Contact: David Glickson|
DOE/National Renewable Energy Laboratory