Forest technology building better renewable resources

Vancouver, BC – Spruce trees are Canada’s most significant forest resource because they grow in almost every region across the country and are the largest species by the number. They produce high quality wood and fibre that is widely used in the industry. With roughly 400 million seedlings planted per year, spruce are also the most reforested trees in Canada.

With the threat of climate change and unpredictable forest product markets, several projects are currently underway in Canada to develop innovative new tools and technologies for tree breeding programs to ensure reliable spruce stock for future seed and seedling production.

Among the most promising is a $10.5-million research project, Spruce-Up: Advanced spruce genomics for productive and resilient forests (Spruce-Up). This project hopes to double the net economic output value of spruce forests, increasing the value of new trees and reducing losses due to environmental disturbances. Backed in part by Genome BC, the project is being led by Dr. Joerg Bohlmann at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Dr. Jean Bousquet from l’Université Laval. Together, they will try to accelerate the development and deployment of genomics-improved spruce seedlings that could be more resistant to insects and drought, have enhanced nutrient use efficiency and result in improved wood quality and productivity.

“Spruce-Up capitalizes on our long-standing successful collaborations with industry and government,” says Dr. Joerg Bohlmann, Professor and Distinguished University Scholar, Michael Smith Laboratories, UBC. “We are building on over a decade of ground breaking forest genomics research enabled by Genome Canada, Genome BC and other partners.”

Another research project, Synbiomics, valued at $9.5-million, is being co-led by UBC’s Dr. Harry Brumer and led by Dr. Emma Master of the University of Toronto. They are focused on harnessing the genetic potential of microorganisms to identify and develop new biocatalysts that can be used to create materials from trees, such as resins, coatings, bioplastics and adhesives. The project will also foster small and medium-sized enterprises that will work together synergistically with nearby pulp mills, creating lasting knowledge-based economic opportunities for Canada’s forest sector and rural communities.

“The application of genomics technology to forestry challenges is a direct link from laboratory to product support,” says Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, chief scientific officer and vice president, Sector Development, at Genome BC. “We are investing in this innovative work because there is a real opportunity to ensure the continuing success of a major Canadian economic sector and find cost efficiencies in the process.”

These projects were awarded through Genome Canada’s 2015 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition Natural Resources and the Environment: Sector Challenges – Genomic Solutions. Funders of this work include Genome Canada, Genome BC, Genome Quebec, Ontario Genomics, the BC Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations, Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec, Natural Resources Canada, Forest Products Innovations, and the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre and other partners.

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