New genome markers could provide a $300 million annual boost to Canada’s forest sector. A research partnership between the Canada Research Chair in Forest Genomics of Université Laval and FPInnovations, the world’s largest private, non-profit forest research centre, along with the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre and various users of the forest sector, intends to use the latest genomics findings to grow better trees that can help the Canadian industry compete more effectively on a global level. Specifically, the partnership is looking to develop more efficiently spruce trees that will grow faster, have a higher wood quality and are more resistant to insect pests.
Spruces are Canada’s most reforested species with 400 million seedlings planted annually, some 60 per cent of total plantings. Conventional tree improvement breeding can take in excess of 30 years to deliver better plantation stocks. Using genomics to select the best stock could eliminate much of that time. By linking trees’ genomic profiles with their attributes, one can rapidly assess a tree’s value at the seedling stage, thus reducing the need for expensive field testing over long periods of time. As a result, improved trees could be planted much faster and spruce stock value could increase by up to 20 per cent over time, or $300 million per year.
This project aims to harness the knowledge derived from previous Genome Canada-funded research to fast track the applications of genomic selection tests called FastTRAC, and tailor Canadian forests to meet new market needs and environmental challenges. Specifically, the new genomic profiling and selection tools will be applied to white and Norway spruce planting stocks of three major forest sector users—the Québec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, J.D. Irving Ltd and the New Brunswick Tree Improvement Council. Once validated at the operational scale, the new technology will become available to other members of the Canadian forest sector.