In the wild, willow trees can sense when they've been blown sideways, activating a genetic trait that causes sugar molecules in the stem to strengthen in hopes of straightening out.
When harvested, these sugars can be used to create biofuels, according to scientists at London Imperial University.
The discovery answers an age-old question about biofuel production. Scientists were previously unaware why some willows yielded more biofuel than others.
"We've known for some time that environmental stresses can cause trees to naturally develop a slightly modified 'reaction wood’ and that it can be easier to release sugars from this wood," said study lead Dr. Nicholas Brereton in a press release.
"This is an important breakthrough. Our study now shows that natural genetic variations are responsible for these differences and this could well be the key to unlocking the future for sustainable bioenergy from willow.”
As an added bonus, the process is completely natural and does not appear to damage the tree in any way.
Researchers hope the results will help scientists cultivate biofuel in challenging climatic conditions.