Scion-tists reveal ground-breaking research

Wednesday 25 Oct 2017

World first ground-breaking research announced for forestry industry – A world-first scientific breakthrough that could revolutionise the forestry industry was announced at the Forest Growers Research Conference in Christchurch.

Scion scientists revealed at the conference on Tuesday that they have completed a "draft assembly" of the radiata pine genome that will mark the beginning of "a new era of precision forestry for a critically important species." A genome is an organism's complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism.

With the new knowledge, the forestry industry could breed trees with desired characteristics, doing away with selective breeding which can take decades to produce superior trees, said molecular breeding scientist Emily Telfer.

"We could breed a whole range of different trees, from construction timber to biofuels" Telfer said. "Thanks to genomics we will be able to identify genes with drought and disease resistance and establish them much faster."

Another advantage will be in reducing the effects of climate change and disease.

"As environments alter with climate, diseases not found in New Zealand may establish and threaten our forests," said Telfer. She said the completion of the genome assembly meant scientists now had an "instruction book" for how a radiata pine grew. It was the foundation needed to begin the task of deciphering how each of the base pairs of DNA related to the trees' physical terms.

Scion research team science leader Heidi Dungey said the genome was a "very complicated beast."

"It's over 25 billion base pairs in length which is eight times bigger than the human genome."

The genome will be the foundation for applying genomics in forestry, she said.

"Achieving a genome opens the door for applying genomic technologies across the board, not only for production reasons, but also for environmental reasons.

"There are still a large number of sequences that we still need to discover. But genomes are always a work in progress.

"First of all, we will be using it to understand how markers that are associated with different traits in the radiata pine population can help forest growers and improve their production and profitability.

"We will also be using it to understand how genes work - to pick into the function of the gene and how it is operating." The genome assembly began in 2013 and was completed in September using a high-capacity computer server.

Radiata pine is the "backbone" of New Zealand's forest industry, but it is also the most domesticated pine in the world and is grown commercially in Australia, Chile, Spain and South Africa.

Source: Stuff News and Forest Growers Research

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