Native plants and forestry

Forestry genomics and breeding

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CSIRO is studying the underlying genetic processes that are responsible for wood quality to help tackle problems faced in forestry production.

Discovering genes

CSIRO aims to discover gene variants that control wood fibre traits and to research how these genes function within a tree.

The objective is to identify novel and critical genes involved in the production of the trees' cell walls and fibres.

These genes contribute in significant ways to imporve wood fibre properties such as increased pulp yield for paper production or strong wood fibres for construction purposes.

Other important traits targeted are those which control the trees' capacity to adapt to certain environmental conditions such as drought resistance, frost tolerance and disease tolerance.

For this, CSIRO uses tools that include:

  • genomics, the study of an organism's entire genome or DNA.
  • transciptomics, which studies how these genes are expressed through the RNA.
  • bioinformatics, which applies information technology to molecular biology.

Speeding up tree improvement

Tree breeding involves long generation times to make tree improvements. This is a relatively slow process compared to the gains that can be achieved with annual plants like wheat which have a rapid lifecycle.

CSIRO aims to increase the efficiency of forest tree breeding and to provide tools for identifying superior trees with exceptional industrial and adaptive traits such as durability and straightness, in relatively short spans of time.

CSIRO aims to increase the efficiency of forest tree breeding and to provide tools for identifying superior trees with exceptional traits.

To do this CSIRO, in collaboration with industry partners, has several pine and eucalypt controlled crosses in which trees with the best traits are selected for breeding. CSIRO also establishes provenance field trials from seed collected from their natural geographic range.

An important output of this research is the Juvenile Wood Initiative, a five year project that is improving the productivity and quality of radiata pine forest in Australia.

Pine breeding has produced two generations of radiata pine for volume and form traits such as straightness and branching.

Marker technology

CSIRO scientists use DNA markers to improve the efficiency of breeding of pines, eucalypts and acacias.

Markers are used to tag the likely position of genes controlling traits of interest, which allow the genes to be physically isolated and characterised.

DNA marker technology permits scientists to detect associations between individuals or populations in different localities and regions.

Using this technology, CSIRO scientists have uncovered mahor sources of genetic variation in natural populations of Acacia mangium, for use in breeding programs.

Association genetics

Groundbreaking field and laboratory research known as association genetics, is allowing CSIRO to locate the genes responsible for wood quality traits such as strength and pulp yield.

Association genetics is used to find links between a version of a particular gene and a wood quality trait such as microfibril angle, which influences timber strength.

Previously, genes in forest trees were often discovered by waiting until a related gene was found in another plant species and then cloning that gene in the forest species.

This new method of analysis is more precise than regular molecular marker analysis, which links whole segments of chromosomes to traits in a less precise way.

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