Forest Genomics

Genomics is the study of a given organism’s DNA, gene sequence and function. Genomic tools have been a major research and development emphasis for agronomic plant and animal species to improve yield and quality, reduce disease, and improve nutrition. The genomes of forest trees are large and diverse making it challenging to identify the DNA variation and underlying genes that affect the appearance and performance of the trees. Forest trees have been the focus of many breeding programmes for genetic improvement for over 50 years but these species still remain highly diverse. Being able to identify genetic markers related to the variation in phenotypes (the composition of an individual’s characteristic traits) offers the potential to genetically improve forest tree species at a much faster pace than traditional breeding approaches.

In recent years the genomes of several tree species have been sequenced including Populus (Poplar), Eucalyptus (Eucalypts), and Pinus (Pine). This work has been led by collaborating scientists at various Federal facilities, Academic institutions and other Industry groups. ArborGen is well positioned to leverage these genomic resources to develop new tools to enhance seedlings for all of these species.

The application of genomics in forestry offers opportunities for both commercial plantation production and the conservation of ecologically important species. Genomics could identify genes to help ArborGen develop exceptional trees such as:

  • Trees with increased productivity and improved stem form
  • Trees with improved wood quality and characteristics such as strength and straightness.
  • Trees that are able to adapt to changing climates.
  • Trees that are insect and disease resistant.
  • Genomic tools are now being developed in Loblolly Pine to:
    • Verify the identity of seed orchard trees (DNA fingerprinting)
    • Improve the value of existing mass control pollinated (MCP) families to continue to offer our customers the best return on their investment.
    • Quickly identify the very best trees within the best families in order to develop new varieties and MCP families sooner

ArborGen’s unique set of trials and technology allow us to move quickly towards a genomic enhanced Loblolly Pine seedling product to increase the value of forest plantations in the southeastern United States.