Vancouver, BC – BC’s forests cover two-thirds of our total landmass and our forests generate more than $11.6 billion in economic activity each year. One of BC’s largest manufacturing sectors and its largest single source of exports, forestry accounts for 58,200 jobs in this province. On average, more than 200 million tree seedlings are planted each year on public forestland in BC. That’s more than 7 billion trees since reforestation programs began in the 1930s. Genomics research has the potential to change the way we manage and conserve our forests.
Tree breeding programs in BC have decades of knowledge and meticulous records to draw upon ensuring the health and wood quality of breeding populations. However, changing environments and conditions can throw a wrench into these plans. Genomics can provide some of the tools to help adjust to disturbances. One application of genomics by the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) is to enhance the understanding of a tree’s pest and pathogen resistance, for example, thereby informing tree breeding programs tasked with forest stewardship.
Genome BC is funding two new projects specifically aimed at conifer health and wood quality. Western redcedar multi-trait genomic selection is assessing the potential application of genomics in the tree breeding program for Western redcedar to identify and select for commercially important traits as well as to ensure future populations are adapted to changing climates. Implementation of genomic selection in coastal Douglas-fir breeding program capitalizes on decades of knowledge from prior tree breeding programs and applies genomics to select genetic attributes for enhanced wood quality in much younger tree populations than previous methods.
The uniqueness of these two projects is tied to the full commitment of the user partner the MFLNRO, to implement and apply the knowledge gained through the outcomes of this applied research in order to improve wood quality through the development and implementation of more efficient and effective breeding programs.
“Genomics tools and new management strategies will not only help our new forests better cope with climate change, they will help sustain our forest industry, our economy and our environment,” says Brian Barber, RPF and Director, Tree Improvement Branch, MFLNRO.
“Western redcedar has many of the attributes such as well characterized phenotypic traits of economic and ecological importance, a very short generation time compared to other conifers and lack of inbreeding suppression that make it a superb system in which to apply genomics as a tool in tree breeding,”says Dr. Joerg Bohlmann, professor in the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia.
“Our Douglas-fir project capitalizes on genomic information to determine the underlying causes for the inheritance of complex traits such as wood density and growth,” says Dr. Yousry El-Kassaby, professor and department head, Forest Resources Management, UBC. “Combining genomic tools with our prior knowledge from tree breeding creates a novel synergy and opportunity allowing breeders to select trees at a much younger age because they will be able to better predict how these complex traits will manifest later in the growth cycle.
“For the past decade, Genome BC has made a substantial investment in forestry genomics, seeding a strong ‘sector franchise’,” says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. “Conifers are economically and ecologically important trees and genomics research has given us a much better understanding of how they are interacting with their changing environments, particularly their defence and resistance.”
The two projects, valued at approximately $400,000 each were funded through Genome BC’s User Partnership Program (UPP). UPP is designed to form partnerships with users to find research solutions that address the needs of the key sectors of the BC economy and directly connect receptors in BC economic sectors to new products, services, and practices that arise from genomics-related research. The UPP represents an initial investment of $9M for new research projects, with $3M from Genome BC. The remaining funds are to be provided by user partners and other co-funders.