Scion cracks Radiata Pine genome
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.