Ask Professor Brad Potts why he studies eucalypt genetics and he will tell you the answer is simple, “The excitement of discovery”.
“If I had lived in another era I would have been an explorer,” said Professor Potts. “There is nothing like setting out to discover the unknown.”
Professor Potts’ passion for discovery has led him to publish a significant body of work. In fact, if you do a search on eucalypt genetics, you are likely to find more scientific journal articles published by Brad Potts than anyone else in the world.
So why is eucalypt genetics so important?
Eucalypts are grown all over the world. They’re used to produce firewood in Africa, paper in South America and Europe, and biofuel in the US, to name a few uses. They are iconic native Australian trees which are of great ecological and economic significance to Australia, and they’re our country’s major living genetic-resource contribution to rural economies of the world.
“In Tasmania, we are sitting right in the middle of the natural range of one of the world’s globally significant species,” said Professor Potts.
Eucalypts are so important that the US Department of Energy funded an international project to sequence the genome of a eucalypt species. A group of 80 scientists from 10 countries worked together to produce the ‘Eucalypt genome sequence’ that was published in Nature in 2014.
“This is mega science on an international scale. It took a decade and included the world’s leading scientists in this field, and Tasmania’s researchers were at the table.”
Eucalypt genetics have been studied in Tasmania since the 1930s, and Professor Potts is proud to be included in a long line of professors that have specialised in the area.
We have a database of experiments dating back to the ’40s and a magnificent natural laboratory on our doorstep. Our laboratory is sandwiched between the sea and a mountain, with great natural diversity all around us.
Professor Potts works on the evolutionary processes that have shaped this natural diversity, as well as providing research to support the planting of eucalypts for fibre, wood production and environmental benefits. He works with diverse organisations, from those managing native eucalypt forests for conservation, to those breeding eucalypts for plantations.
Understanding the response of eucalypts to environmental change is a key line of research for both economic and conservation purposes. His applied discoveries help answer questions like how do we improve plantations to produce better paper? How can we optimise the recovery of products such as timber and veneer from a plantation resource instead of using native forests? How do we know which type of tree is best suited to each site?
“I am currently working with Greening Australia to restore landscapes by establishing trees in harsh, dry conditions. Our trials have seen 30,000 trees planted in the Tasmanian Midlands just in 2014."
It is a really exciting project. Every tree has a tag and is tracked by computer. We can trace each tree back to the mother tree growing in the native forest from where seed and DNA have been collected.
“I like the fact that in 100 years time, people will be benefitting from the carbon and biodiversity work that we are doing today."
Interested in conducting your own research? Apply now to become a research student.
About Professor Brad Potts
Professor Potts is the Professor of Forest Genetics in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Tasmania. He specialises in the eucalypt genetics, with his research spanning diverse fields from tree breeding, reproductive biology, evolutionary biology to community genetics. In 2008 he was awarded the Royal Society of New South Wales Clarke Medal for distinguished work in the field of Natural Sciences in Australia and its Territories. He also received the Royal Society of Tasmania's Clive Lord Medal in 2014 for recognition of his substantial contributions to Tasmanian science.View Professor Brad Potts's full researcher profile