Canadian and Swedish scientists today released genome sequences of two of the most economically important forest trees in the world.
Conifers supply raw materials for the Canadian forestry industry, which accounted for $23.7 billion in Canada’s economy in 2011. Gross output of the forest sector in Sweden in 2009 was $29.7 billion.
At 20-30 billion base-pairs and up to 10 times larger than the human genome, the white spruce genome, published in Bioinformatics, and the Norway spruce genome, published in Nature, are also the largest genome sequence assemblies to date.
“Attempting the sequencing of such a large genome was an incredibly ambitious task and required the development of novel software and innovative use of DNA sequence technology to piece together short DNA sequences to form this massive genome, much like a large jigsaw puzzle,” says Prof. Steven Jones, senior author of the white spruce genome study.
Jones is Head of Bioinformatics at the BC Cancer Agency Genome Sciences Centre (GSC) and a professor at both the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver.
“Many projects are now attempting to decipher genomes of economically important plants,” says Inanc Birol, lead scientist of the white spruce genome assembly. “We demonstrated a superior and less expensive method to do the job.” Birol is a scientist with BC Cancer Agency’s GSC and a professor with both UBC and SFU.
“These genome sequences allow us to develop innovative tools for tree breeding, addressing economically and ecologically important targets such as insect resistance, wood quality, growth rates and adaptation to changing climate” says UBC Prof. Joerg Bohlmann, a co-author of both studies.
“Genome-based marker system could serve to reduce the time of a spruce breeding cycle from currently 25 to as short as five years, and will contribute directly to the competitiveness of the Canadian and Scandinavian forest industry,” says Prof. John MacKay of Université Laval, a co-author of both studies.