As agricultural crops go, trees are difficult. Many tree species are wind-pollinated, making selective breeding exceptionally difficult. Many trees don’t get large or old enough to show desirable traits until many years after planting, making breeding for any particular characteristic a slow and resource-intensive process. For much the same reason that elephants, parrots and other long-lived animals can be tamed but have never been as domesticated as dogs, cats or cattle, engineering most tree species to serve human needs is the work of generations, almost impossible to do in human timescales using conventional breeding techniques. Forestry faces all of these challenges and more, due to limited genetic information about trees farmed for paper or meant for restoring natural forests after blights or clear-cutting.
ArborGen works closely with the Pine Consortia to help develop pine trees for plantation forestry applications. In the past year, ArborGen has delivered 500 million seedlings for tree farming, reclamation of former mines, conservation and other applications. In the context of tree farming, ArborGen’s challenge is to continually improve yield, growth rate and disease resistance in its sugar pine and loblolly pine stock, so that tree farms can produce more wood in less time for less effort and reduce demand for wood from existing natural forests. Identifying the genetic basis of disease resistance in forest trees is a critical part of this endeavor, for which modern tools are ideally suited.
Next-generation sequencing, genotyping and other modern genomics techniques present a major opportunity for ArborGen and other tree breeders, taking much of the time and guesswork out of improving tree varieties for human use. In this quest, Patrick Cumbie of ArborGen has found the Applied Biosystems Axiom Genotyping Platform exceptionally useful: “The Axiom technology has been tremendously valuable to us to improve our genetic resource of forest trees.” With this array, ArborGen can read the genetics of its tree stock in fine detail, assaying its characteristics years before they would be apparent by planting and observing.
Forestry faces a particular challenge in the face of climate change around the world. Trees are slow-growing compared to other crops, making them vulnerable to rapid disruptions to their environment. The Axiom array and other genomic selection tools enable ArborGen to react to and anticipate these changes, selecting their forestry stocks with the warmer, more volatile future in mind. Given the role of forests in sequestering atmospheric carbon and the role of tree farms in protecting forests, the work of groups like ArborGen helps protect against the worst of this warming future, while providing for human needs. “Working with Thermo Fisher has been an excellent experience,” Cumbie notes. “The quality of work and rapid time delivery of the information we need has been outstanding. Throughout that process, we have received great customer care and professionalism.”
Other forestry projects making use of the Axiom array include an effort in Japan to engineer sterile Japanese cedar trees as a solution to allergies in urban areas.
For more information on what the Axiom Genotyping Solution and other next-generation sequencing and genomics tools can do for you, send us an inquiry.
For research use only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.