Forest and fibre genomics: biotechnology tools for applied tree improvement
AbstractEucalyptus tree breeders and geneticists stand to benefit tremendously from a recently announced effort to produce the first complete genome sequence for a eucalypt tree by 2010. A milestone for eucalypt research, the project will facilitate the development of new biotechnology tools that will accelerate the domestication, improvement and conservation of eucalypt tree species. We have embarked on a research venture in South Africa to study the molecular genetics of wood formation in fast-growing Eucalyptus trees and to develop biotechnology tools that can be integrated into applied tree-breeding programmes. The Wood and Fibre Molecular Genetics (WFMG) Programme, initiated in 2003, is a joint research programme of the University of Pretoria and the two largest pulp and paper companies in South Africa, Sappi and Mondi South Africa. Early objectives of the programme included the identifi cation and isolation of candidate genes for cellulose production in Eucalyptus trees and the assessment of allelic diversity in candidate wood-formation genes. The application of DNA fingerprinting in eucalypt breeding programmes represented an early technology delivery to industry with practical, short-term benefi ts, which have served to offset the long-term nature of the research programme. Current research projects in the WFMG programme focus on the genetic control of carbon allocation, the transcriptional regulation of cellulose biosynthesis and the role of miRNAs and other small RNAs in wood formation in Eucalyptus. This paper provides a brief overview of research progress in the WFMG programme and discusses realistic time frames for the delivery of genome-based tree improvement tools.
Keywords: biotechnology; cellulose; Eucalyptus; fibre; gene discovery; genomics; marker-assisted breeding; wood development
Southern Forests 2008, 70(2): 59–68