EucXylo is the Hans Merensky Research Chair in Advanced Modelling of Eucalyptus Wood Formation, funded by the Hans Merensky Foundation.  Research in the EucXylo program will explore in detail the dynamics of wood formation (xylogenesis) in the extremely important genus Eucalyptus towards developing mathematical, computational models of the system.

At EucXylo, we want to take a Systems Biology approach to xylogenesis, linked closely to the extraordinary power of Bioinformatics.  That is, we want to put together the pieces of the wood formation puzzle, harnessing modern computational and systems-level analyses to formulate and answer various relevant questions which emerge as our research progresses. We hope this integrative approach will close the loop between the relevant scales which are all inextricably linked: from the level of the organism down to the level of the developing cell.

Eucalypts growing on a sawlog rotation

As we study the interactions between the components of the “Eucalyptus wood formation system”, we will explore how these interactions drive function, structure and behavior in differentiating and structural xylem.  We want to do this through the development of iteratively evolving models.  To this end, the researchers in the Chair will generate necessary data by harnessing cutting edge, high precision ecophysiological and fine-scale growth measurement approaches, combined with intensive sampling and analysis.  New findings and insights will continuously be incorporated in new and evolving mathematical models designed to allow explicit quantitative prediction of particular processes and ultimately, system simulation.  This modelling framework will be developed in accordance with open-access principles in an appropriate development/simulation environment.  The vision for this simulation platform is that it will become a tool that facilitates scientific collaboration and the generation of new hypotheses and ideas within South Africa and around the world.

The cambial zone and recently formed xylem in a eucalypt

Our intention is to develop the simulation framework that interfaces with a web-based front-end, developed using an interactive web-based app like Rshiny or a similar alternative.  The vision is to keep the research based on freeware and open-access tools, and accessible by the research community interested in xylogenesis with as little hindrance as possible.  That way, we hope, collaboration and the sharing of ideas will naturally grow and develop.

Students in front of the Paul Sauer (Forestry) building at Stellenbosch University

The EucXylo team is based at the Department of Forest and Wood Science at the University of Stellenbosch, which celebrated its centenary in 2018, and is widely acknowledged as one of Africa’s premier tertiary education and research institutions.  Located in the historic tourist town of Stellenbosch, staff and students at the University enjoy a relaxed and pleasant lifestyle, close to mountains and sea.  The Department of Forest & Wood Science (DFWS) in the Faculty of AgriSciences at SU, the only one of its kind in South Africa, has had a long history with the University.  Attracting students from around the world, and with strong international linkages and collaborations, the DFWS prides itself on research excellence with a diverse, friendly culture.