A breakthrough in pine tree breeding will help forests to adapt to climate change and bioenergy use. The technique, published in New Phytologist, can create new tree variants in half the time it take for current breeding methods and is expected to increase the security and competitiveness of the U.S. forestry industry.
The southeastern United States is a leading producer of the world's pine, a key natural resource for paper and wood. In Florida alone the forestry industry had an economic impact of more than $14 billion on the state's economy in 2009 and provided more than 80,000 jobs.
Until now the creation of new a pine variety took more than 13 years, with this new technique the estimated time is cut to six years. The savings to the forestry industry are expected to be substantial.
"Competitiveness is a critical element right now," said lead author Matias Kirst, an associate professor in from the school of forest resources and conservation at the University of Florida (UF). "We are under very significant pressure from countries in the world where there's less regulation, where there's higher photosynthetic capacity and the trees grow more. So we have to have the ability to breed more rapidly."
The finding came when the researchers bypassed uncovering every bit of genetic code behind pine tree traits. Instead they used the parts of the genetic code they already knew to develop a trait prediction model.
The model allows the researchers to predict with great accuracy traits that will appear in a tree without having to first grow it in a field test, which can take about eight years.
A large part of the technique's value is in breeding trees that perform well in the face of climate change, including conditions such as higher temperatures and increased drought.
"Breeders want to be in a position where the genetic material that they use is adaptable to a broad range of conditions," said Kirst.
Gary Peter, a professor in UF's school of forest resources and conservation and another study author, said the new method will also enable faster development of trees that can be used for bioenergy, or energy produced from renewable resources.
"If we can modify traits much faster, we can create more specialized trees that can be grown for different products than just pulp and paper and solid wood," Peter said. "We can tailor them for energy conversion."
The new technique will also allow for the speedier development of trees with improved traits such as better wood quality and disease and pest resistance.
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