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Genomics for the Trees

Researchers in the UK are using genomic selection to find fast-growing and high-quality spruce trees, Innovators Magazine reports.

Researchers from the University of Oxford, the University of Edinburgh, and Forest Research, a part of the Forestry Commission, have received funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council to use DNA markers to increase the economic value of the Sitka spruce, in a project dubbed Sitka Spruced.

Innovators Magazine notes that the spruce is the third biggest crop in the UK by area and contributes to about half the revenue of the £2 billion-a-year lumber industry.

"Genomics offers unprecedented potential to shorten the tree breeding process, which is the key to reaching harvestable size earlier," Oxford's John MacKay tells Innovators Magazine. "With Sitka Spruced, we not only aim for faster tree growth and a reduction of plantation rotation from 40 to around 30 years, but also to improve the quality of wood stocks."

In that way, he adds, three rotations of trees could be grown in the time it used to take two to grow, which would then provide an economic boost.