Genome British Columbia

Genome British Columbia

September 21, 2011 10:00 ET

Genome BC: New Major Forestry Research Initiatives Just in Time for National Tree Day

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Sept. 21, 2011) - Genome BC is today announcing three major projects that will use our increasing understanding of the genomics of trees - how they control growth, adaptability, and much more - to help address substantial challenges in climate change, fuel shortages and dwindling natural resources. The federal government is also recognizing the importance of these issues by designating today as Canada's first National Tree Day, mid-week of National Forest Week.

Canada possesses vast amounts of forests, which provide Canadians with one of their largest renewable resources. Forests are essential for carbon storage, the production of bioenergy, and as a valuable economic resource. The project 'Towards a new range of bioproducts from forest biomass' looks at how microorganisms in soil naturally degrade trees into biofuel feedstocks; 'Sprucing up the forest industry' is aimed at upping healthy wood yield; and, 'Adapting to climate change' looks at how to manage tree breeding and growth in the midst of our shifting climate.

The infrastructure already exists in our province to plant and grow hundreds of millions of trees annually. The research being done as part of these three projects will guide decisions on what trees to plant where, and these management changes can then be applied to the existing infrastructure. BC is well situated to adapt our forests to the need for biofuels, the necessity of increasing our forest wood production, and climate change through changes in forest management and seed source decisions.

As our dependence on fossil fuels continues to rise, and traditional fuel sources are depleted, biofuels are becoming an increasingly important new energy source. Scientists are now turning to new technologies and alternative processes to improve economic and conversion efficiencies for biofuels production. 'Towards a new range of bioproducts from forest biomass', led by Drs. Lindsay Eltis and Bill Mohn at the University of British Columbia (UBC), is exploring the microorganisms found in soil that naturally degrade biomass, a key component of biofuels. Unlocking the potential of forest biomass will lead to better forest management practices and improve the economics of lignin-based products.

Forestry is also a hugely important economic resource to our provincial economy and across Canada. The project 'Sprucing up the forestry industry' is in partnership with Genome Quebec and led by Dr. Jörg Bohlmann of UBC and Dr. John Mackay of Université Laval. The BC and Quebec research teams bring together a unique pan-Canadian spruce genomics consortium that builds on expertise and traditional strength in these two provinces both in conifer genomics and tree breeding.The research aims to develop marker technologies to identify spruce seedlings that have superior growth and wood properties, or increased insect resistance. As they are identified, these genetic marker systems and biomarkers can be directly applied to Canadian spruce forestry programs, which will result in a significant increase in production.

Climate change threatens the health of our forests, and forest-dependent communities, which will impact BC economically, socially and environmentally. In her project, 'Adapting to climate change', Dr. Sally Aitken, also a UBC researcher, is utilizing resources from previous, more traditional forestry projects, and using her genomic knowledge of trees to help address the climate-change induced mismatch between the inherent genetics of trees and the locations where they currently grow. Using genomic analysis coupled with cutting-edge geospatial analysis and climate modeling, Dr. Aitken and her team are looking at the impact of climate change, and how to adapt to it on two of our province's most important trees: lodgepole pine and spruce.

By analyzing the miniscule molecules of the mighty trees that surround us, genomic tools will be used to preserve our existing forests, to safeguard our clean air and enhance natural resources into potential fuel stores.

Genome BC is funding these three projects as a result of Genome Canada's 2010 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition. This competition was targeted towards large-scale research projects focused on the application of genomics research addressing challenges in forestry and the environment. In this competition Genome BC researchers were leaders on eight of 16 projects awarded funding.

QUOTES:

Project Leader Dr. Lindsay Eltis:

"Funding from Genome Canada and Genome BC provides us with a unique opportunity to increase our understanding of the degradation of woody biomass by bacteria, and to exploit these activities to improve forest management practices and the economics of a range of bioproducts. We hope that our research will ultimately contribute to a more sustainable, economically viable forest products industry, something that is extremely important to BC. We are fortunate to have strong partnerships with local and national companies, something that will facilitate the transfer of technologies from the bench to industry."

Project Leader Dr. Jörg Bohlmann:

"This research project builds on the previous Treenomix and Arborea projects, which together were the founding projects for all conifer genomics research in Canada and established Canada as an international leader in this field. In this new project, we will take previous and new discoveries in conifer genomics to applications in spruce breeding programs in Canada. Our applications are targeting conifer breeding for improved insect and disease resistance, wood quality, and adaptation to changing climates."

Project Leader Dr. Sally Aitken

"My hope for this research is that we will successfully profile the genomic basis of adaptation to climate in Western Canada's two most planted tree species, lodgepole pine and interior spruce. Once we understand how natural populations of these species have adapted to climates in the past, we can use that information to advise forest managers and policy makers on what trees should be planted where in anticipation of future climates. Without the funding we have received from Genome Canada and Genome BC, we would be unable to undertake genomics research on this scale. Adequate funds for large-scale projects are not available through traditional funding agencies. Conifers have large genomes, and it takes a massive effort and state-of-the-art technologies to screen those genomes and identify the genes involved in complex traits like adaptation to climate."

Genome BC President & CEO Alan Winter

"Genome BC is proud to announce these remarkable initiatives and honoured to be a part of this extraordinary work. I truly believe that we will see vast differences in the way we approach tree breeding and biofuel production as a result of these projects."

About Genome British Columbia:

Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada's West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $450M in technology platforms and research projects. Working with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries, agriculture, environment, bioenergy, mining and human health, the goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and Canada. www.genomebc.ca

NOTE TO EDITORS: Media are invited to attend a press conference

Date/Time: Wednesday, September 21st, 2011 / 10:00am

Place: UBC Totem Field, 2613 West Mall, Vancouver, BC

Genome Canada President & CEO Dr. Pierre Meulien, Genome BC President & CEO Dr. Alan Winter, and Project Leaders Dr. Sally Aitken, Dr. Jörg Bohlmann and Dr. Lindsay Eltis will be available for interviews following the announcement of their projects.

Telephone interviews and photos available on request.

On-site contact: Julia White, Communications Officer, 604-889-1503

BACKGROUNDER

Project: Towards a new range of bioproducts from forest biomass
Project Leaders: Lindsay Eltis and William Mohn (UBC)
Lead Genome Centre: Genome British Columbia
Funding Amount: $7,830,841

The forestry products industry is one of Canada's largest contributors to GDP, however, its role has been diminished by increasing competition, consumer demands for higher quality products and stakeholder interest in improved forest management. A key part of remaining competitive involves better management of forest biomass - a rich source of biofuels, feedstocks and other lignin-based products such as resins and carbon fibres. Together, these could contribute more than $1 billion to GDP. With funding from Genome British Columbia, Genome Canada and other partners, scientists are exploring the microorganisms found in soil that naturally degrade biomass. Unlocking the potential of forest biomass will lead to better forest management practices and improve the economics of lignin-based products.

To expedite the wider use of these innovations, an integrated GE3LS component is investigating key technological, commercial organizational, environmental and societal issues.

Project: Adapting to climate change.
Project Leaders: Sally Aitken (UBC) and Andreas Hamann (University of Alberta)
Lead Genome Centre: Genome British Columbia
Funding Amount: $4,703,158

Climate change is causing a mismatch between the natural genetics of trees and the locations where they grow. Seedlings that were once well adapted to a specific region are now poorly adapted to their environment due to changes caused by climate change. Over the past decade, this maladaptation is showing up in higher losses due to pests like the mountain pine beetle in British Columbia and drought-related dieback in Alberta. With funding from Genome British Columbia, Genome Canada and others, scientists are applying state-of-the-art technologies from genomics as well as geospatial analysis and climate modeling to two of the most important western Canadian trees - lodgepole pine and spruce. Every year about $10 billion worth of timber is harvested in these provinces. The volume of this harvest is expected to decline by 35% this century.

Scientists are sequencing seedlings to better understand what genes are involved in adaptation to local climate conditions. This will lead to ensuring that the right trees get planted in the right climactic areas, improve the long-term health of forests and generate economic benefits of hundreds of millions of dollars every year. A range of stakeholders have been engaged to better understand the socioeconomic issues involved, leading to policy recommendations for better forestry management.

Project: Sprucing up the forestry industry
Project Leaders: Jörg Bohlmann (UBC) and John MacKay (Université Laval)
Lead Genome Centres: Genome British Columbia & Genome Quebec
Funding Amount: $10,306,959

Forestry products contribute approximately $28 billion to Canada's GDP and spruce trees account for nearly 60% of all the seedlings planted annually. Building on a decade of groundbreaking research on spruce genomics, Genome BC, Genome Canada and others, are funding the development of marker technologies to identify seedlings that have superior growth and wood properties, or superior insect resistance. Genetic marker systems and biomarkers will be developed and applied to Canadian forestry programs. It is estimated that by applying "Marker Aided Selection" (MAS) to just 20% of Canadian spruce plantations, wood yield could increase by 1.5 million cubic meters per year, boosting GDP by $300 million. Using methods such as MAS also allows wood production to be concentrated on a smaller land area, allowing more forest to be set aside for conservation. Over the longer term, these methods will also enhance the competitiveness of the Canadian forestry by boosting yield and enhancing the value of its products. The project will conduct impact analyses of the economic, socio-economic as well as the legal and policy instruments that could affect the use of MAS in provincial jurisdictions and help develop high value jobs in rural communities by diversifying the "bioproduct" pipeline.

Contact Information