Scion cracks Ra­di­ata Pine genome

New Zealand Logger - - Forest Talk -

IN A WORLD FIRST, SCION SCI­EN­TISTS have com­pleted a draft as­sem­bly of the Ra­di­ata Pine genome, mark­ing a new era of pre­ci­sion forestry for a crit­i­cally im­por­tant species.

Project leader, Dr Emily Telfer, says: “The com­ple­tion of the genome as­sem­bly means that we now have an in­struc­tion book for how a Ra­di­ata tree grows. It’s the foun­da­tion we need to begin the task of de­ci­pher­ing what each of the base pairs of DNA re­lates to in phys­i­cal terms.”

At 25 bil­lion base pairs, the Ra­di­ata Pine genome is eight times big­ger than the hu­man genome and was cracked us­ing Scion’s newly ac­quired high-ca­pac­ity com­puter server. Fol­low­ing as­sem­bly, the next steps are to un­der­stand each piece of the genome and the role it plays in tree growth and re­silience.

The sheer size of the genome was a large chal­lenge to re­searchers. Dr Telfer says: “This is not the kind of prob­lem we could fix just by throw­ing re­sources at it. We had to come up with a way to seg­ment the genome, process it and put it back to­gether again.”

Armed with this knowl­edge, the forestry in­dus­try can breed trees with their de­sired char­ac­ter­is­tics, has­ten­ing the cur­rent method of se­lec­tive breed­ing that can take decades to pro­duce su­pe­rior trees. Once ge­neti­cists un­der­stand the genome bet­ter, that will all change.

“We could breed a whole range of dif­fer­ent trees - from con­struc­tion tim­ber to bio­fu­els,” adds Dr Telfer.

An­other ad­van­tage will be in mit­i­gat­ing the ef­fects of cli­mate change and dis­ease. As en­vi­ron­ments al­ter with the cli­mate, dis­eases not pre­vi­ously found in New Zealand may es­tab­lish here and threaten our forests, us­ing ge­nomics to iden­tify genes with drought and dis­ease re­sis­tance to es­tab­lish them in the wider pop­u­la­tion much faster.


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