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Selective breeding project to help the western redcedar thrive in BC


November 10, 2021
By Genome BC

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Western redcedar (Thuja plicata), the provincial tree of British Columbia, has tremendous economic and cultural significance to First Nations and all British Columbians. Wood products derived from western redcedar support over $1 billion annually to B.C.’s economy.

Unfortunately, western redcedar faces significant challenges due to the changing climate. Increasing temperatures and droughts along with pathogen and herbivore pressures are having an impact on the ability of these mighty trees to thrive in our province.

To address this, UBC professor Joerg Bohlmann and the Forest Improvement and Research Management (FIRM) branch of B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (MFLNRORD) have developed innovative genomic selection models, with funding support from Genome BC and Genome Canada, to identify elite western redcedar genotypes.

This innovation is one of the world’s first genomic selection approaches in conifers aimed at dramatically reducing conventional breeding cycles and selection times. This will ensure trees with enhanced volume growth and wood durability are available to meet current and future demands of the western redcedar breeding program.

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Building upon this success, a new project funded by Genome BC aims to incorporate screening for two additional phenotypes (observable traits) — resistance to deer browse and fungal foliar disease.  Deer browse causes severe and irreversible damage to young trees, and the current protection practices are costly, unsustainable, and labour intensive. Foliar diseases, such as cedar leaf blight, heavily impact growth and there are no silviculture tools available to protect the western redcedar against leaf blight.

“In order to benefit from gains in growth and wood quality, it is essential that young trees get established without damage from animal browsing and by limiting the impact of foliar diseases on juvenile growth in a cost effective and environmentally sustainable fashion.” says Bohlmann.

“The application of genomic selection models will support these objectives by shortening the western redcedar breeding cycle from 20 to four years for selection of these phenotypes at the seedling stage,” says Dr. Alvin Yanchuk, forest genetics team lead, MFLNRORD and FIRM. “This will add tremendous value to the western redcedar breeding program.”

“Our ongoing investments in the forestry sector will ensure that trees such as the western redcedar can continue to thrive in British Columbia,” says Dr. Federica di Palma, chief scientific officer and vice-president, sectors, at Genome BC. “Genomics has proven to be a powerful tool for protecting the future of BC’s forests.”

This work was funded through Genome BC’s GeneSolve program which seeks to foster applied and translational research by connecting the producers of genomics driven technologies with its end-users or consumers in B.C.’s Health, Agrifood and Natural Resources sectors.

Genome BC is a not-for-profit organization supporting world-class genomics research and innovation to grow globally competitive life sciences sectors and deliver sustainable benefits for British Columbia, Canada and beyond. The organization’s initiatives are improving the lives of British Columbians by advancing health care in addition to addressing environmental and natural resource challenges. In addition to scientific programming, Genome BC works to integrate genomics into society by supporting responsible research and innovation and foster an understanding and appreciation of the life sciences among educators, students and the public. genomebc.ca