Using new selection tools, Genome Atlantic says it can cut the time it takes to find ideal tree traits from decades down to a few years. (Michael Gorman / CBC)
With conventional breeding programs in forestry or agriculture, Donald said two promising parents are selected and crossed together. Researchers then follow their offspring to see how they perform, and whether they have inherited the desirable traits.
But Donald said the problem with this tree-breeding method is it can take up to years to see whether the next generation has inherited those specific traits.
Using new genomic-selection tools, Donald said the time can be cut “by decades down to a few years.” Researchers can look at the genetic makeup of the seed, and only plant it if it has the genetic markers researchers want.
By examining the genome of the offspring and the parent trees, Donald said predictions about traits are possible very, very early in a tree’s growth.
Project fits into Lahey report
It will likely be several years before Nova Scotians could start seeing plantations of these high-production trees, Donald said.
Genome Atlantic does not handle the planting themselves, Donald said, but promotes and manages genomic research in the region. It has helped different partners form the AtlanTIC group, develop funding proposals, and manage projects.
AtlanTIC is a public-private industry group made up of Northern Pulp, Port Hawkesbury Paper, Irving and four forestry departments across the Atlantic area.
Donald said the tree genome project aligns with the Lahey report, which suggests setting areas of the province aside for high-production forestry and leaving room for biodiversity.
Released 2½ years ago, the report by Bill Lahey, the president of King’s University’s College, includes 30 recommendations that ultimately call for a more sustainable approach to managing forests, and steps that would lead to a reduction in clear cutting.
Iain Rankin, a former Minister of Lands and Forestry who was elected Liberal leader earlier this month, has promised to put the report into action this year. He’s expected to be sworn in as premier next week.