A Christmas tree’s genetic recipe

A Christmas tree’s genetic recipe

Researchers have sequenced the genome of the White Spruce — Canada’s most profitable forest species and a popular Christmas tree choice
December 4, 2013

Researchers have successfully assembled a first draft of the genomic sequence of Canada’s most predominant and economically important tree — the White Spruce — a breakthrough that constitutes one of the largest genomes sequenced in the world and one which will lend a significant advantage to the country’s $23 billion dollar forest industry.

Joerg Bohlmann at The University of British Columbia (UBC) co-leads SMarTForests, a multi-institutional spruce genome project, with Université Laval researcher John MacKay. Working in laboratories funded in part by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Bohlmann and MacKay worked with a team that tackled the sequencing project, the results of which were published in May 2013.

With the Spruce genome in hand, SMarTForests is now working with Canadian tree breeders to correlate physical and ecological traits of the tree with genomic markers found in its map. The goal is to develop a set of tools to identify the best trees for tree breeding. Instead of having to wait 25-30 years to see if their breeding efforts were successful, breeders can test the trees’ genome for markers that correlate with desirable traits such as pest and drought resistance, high wood quality and adaptability to climate change in as little as five years. The ability to breed hardier stock more efficiently will help Canada remain a leader in the competitive global forest industry.

The White Spruce makes up more than 50 percent of the country’s forest land and is used primarily to make wood pulp and lumber, but also as Christmas trees.