Genome CanadaGenome QuebecUniversité Laval

Project Goals

Mission Statement

Arborea is a tree genomics research project whose mission is to contribute to the durable development of forests through innovative solutions. Its multidisciplinary research team develops tools for the genetic selection of trees, advances the discovery of new knowledge and helps to train young scientists. Through its promotion of excellence, Arborea will deliver scientific outputs and socio-economic benefits to the community, and position Canada as leading nation in forest genomics.

Scientific Summary

Arborea Phase II (2006-2010)

The overall project goal is to identify genes that govern naturally occurring phenotypic variation of commercially valuable traits in breeding populations of white spruce trees (Picea glauca). Spruces are of key economic importance in Canada and represent our most widely reforested species. We will target traits involved in the control of growth in regard to forest productivity (yield), and wood quality traits in relation to value recovery from plantations of forest trees, extending our current work on wood formation (Arborea project) from the lab to the field. The proposed gene mapping research to identify genetic loci, molecular functions and sequence polymorphism therein aims to enable the development of molecular marker applications for tree breeding. Our program is enviably positioned to be among the first to successfully develop molecular breeding applications in commercially important conifers, through an integrated research approach.  Our comprehensive plan is built upon the unique natural and pedigreed populations that we have assembled for analyses in conjunction with high throughput genotyping and large-scale expression profiling technologies.

Specific Project Objectives

A. Extend and improve the characterization of the spruce ORFeome with large-scale cDNA sequencing and functional studies of structural and regulatory proteins.

B. Conduct integrated large-scale gene mapping and expression profiling studies in conjunction with high resolution phenotyping for growth and wood property traits to identify DNA polymorphisms that provide the basis to develop molecular breeding.

C. Expand currently developed bioinformatics databases and tools to support both the scale of these analyses as well as the integration of functional genomics and gene mapping activities and data.

D. Analyze economic impacts of anticipated outcomes; investigate related environmental issues as perceived by the public. Evaluate and test methods and scenarios to enable technology transfer with forestry sector partners.

We will make extensive use of materials derived from natural and pedigreed populations developed by Canadian Forest Service for association mapping approaches and quantitative trait locus mapping. We have conducted large-scale discovery  of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and are poised to implement methods for genotyping of thousands of expressed genes, as a virtually unlimited source of robust genetic markers. Candidate genes identified in ongoing and proposed research will be integrated into these association mapping studies. We will extend and improve the discovery and annotation of the spruce ORFeome in order to expand our search for candidate genes, and increase the breadth of our microarrays. We will also utilize large-scale transcript profiling to map loci responsible for expression polymorphism. The ORFeome characterization will encompass a data integration component based upon established Canadian and international collaborations. Functional annotation of key gene families will entail characterization of selected structural protein families, and high throughput analyses of putative transcription factors.

We will advance along the research and development continuum by partnering with conifer breeding programs in government and industry. We will conduct proof-of-concept experiments with these partners, with the aim of transferring molecular breeding technology developed in the cadre of this project to conifer breeding programs. Analyses of economic returns from molecular breeding and of environmental issues related to the application of genomics in forestry are also integral to the project.


Lay Summary

The goal of the Arborea (phase II) project is to identify genes linked the natural variability of growth and wood properties of spruce trees. Softwood trees like spruce  are widespread throughout Canadian forests and are of major economic importance. Spruces are the  most widely used species in forest plantations. They are multi-purpose species with important commercial value as saw logs and for pulpwood. Studies of tree growth and yield as well as wood properties are essential to help enhance the economic performance of our forest product industry. The discovery of genes that are linked to these traits can be used to generate tools and protocols for selecting high performance trees, which can be deployed to achieve greater gains more rapidly.

The proposed research will make use of unique experimental spruce populations and plantations assembled by the Canadian Forest Service. Recently developed methods will enable the inventory of variability within thousands of genes and of variability in the expression of genes. Together these data will provide extensive new insights into tree growth and wood properties. The project builds upon established strengths in forest genetics at Laval University and the Laurentian Forestry Center as well as among Canadian and international collaborators which range from the DNA molecule to the growth of trees in the field.

By identifying the genes that naturally condition tree growth and wood quality, we hope to be in a much better position to select the trees to that produce high yields and better quality woods. Economic benefits and positive social and ecological impacts are anticipated once the outcomes of our research are applied. Increases in productivity and yield should help alleviate pending shortages in forest resources in spite of the increasing demand for wood products. In Canada, the forest products industry represents 81.8 billion dollars of activity annually, and provides more than 375 000 direct jobs. In order to maintain this enviable position, research and development is needed to make our forestry sector more sustainable and for our industry to remain competitive in the global market place.

The proposed research project will promote Canada to the forefront of international efforts in forest tree genomics, particularly with respect to conifer tree species. International collaborations will assuredly strengthen gene discovery and bioinformatics activities. The project is also structured to enable vital interactions with other Canadian research groups. A major strength of the project is the high degree of horizontal and vertical integration that it will achieve. It closely integrates several genomic research methods addressing genetic variability and gene function in the study of unique tree populations. It also integrates research, technology transfer with provincial research organizations and industry, economic analyses and studies of environmental acceptability. In order to help the project meet these important goals, a stake-holder and end-user commitment will be established, bringing together a cross section of specialists from government, industry, academia and non-government organizations.