The Hans Merensky Chair in Advanced Modelling of Eucalypt Wood Formation
Understanding xylogenesis in the world's most widely planted hardwood species
EucXylo is the Hans Merensky Research Chair in Advanced Modelling of Eucalypt Wood Formation, funded by the Hans Merensky Foundation and based at Stellenbosch University, in South Africa. Research in the EucXylo program explores in detail all aspects of growth, but particularly the dynamics of wood formation (xylogenesis), in the extremely important group of genera known as the eucalypts. A key part of our research activity is focussed on developing mathematical, computational models of tree growth and xylem production.
At EucXylo, we want to take a Systems Biology approach to understand growth and xylogenesis, linked closely to the extraordinary power of Bioinformatics. We are putting 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.
As we study the interactions between the components of the “eucalypt 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 (see Research Opportunities). 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.
Ultimately, our vision is for fully simulated xylem formation (as shown in the simple video below, based on the Drew et al. 2010 CAMBIUM Model) to be a perfectly realistic mimic of the real thing! In the little video you can see below, simulating xylem formation in a eucalypt, the black zone represents cambial initials and the green zone shows the cambial zone of “xylem mother cells”. Blue xylem cells that are in the stage of irreversible expansion and the red shows xylem busy depositing the secondary wall. The brown portion is fully lignified xylem has become functional for water transport. What we want is to go far beyond this level of simulation! Better rendering, with 3D representation, and a more believable cell-cell interaction, for a start… It’s an exciting vision, and we’re enjoying the journey.