Dr. Jörg Bohlmann looks to “spruce-up” Canada’s most significant forest resource

Written by Justin G. A. Whitehill, Research Associate in the Bohlmann lab, Michael Smith Laboratories

“The natural resource and environment sectors are areas where genomics is just starting to emerge as a powerful tool to help address issues facing many traditional industries. These new projects will tap into the huge potential for innovative, genomics-based solutions that will help some of our key industries – mining, forestry, fisheries – revive and thrive in the face of climate change, while also protecting our precious ecosystems, drinking water and wildlife.”
Marc LePage, President and CEO, Genome Canada

Canada’s natural resources and associated industries sustain around 1.8 million jobs. Canada’s merchandise exports from natural resources have a value of $235 billion (2013). Canada’s most significant forest resource is the long-lived, durable and highly valuable spruce tree. Spruces dominate the coastal rainforests and boreal forests of Canada. Dr. Jörg Bohlmann of the University of British Columbia along with Dr. Jean Bousquet of Université Laval are leading a new project focusing on spruce. The research is funded through Genome Canada’s 2015 Large-Scale Applied Research Project (LSARP) Competition. LSARP supports projects that use genomic approaches “to address challenges and opportunities of importance to Canada’s natural resources and environmental sectors, including interactions between natural resources and the environment, thereby contributing to the Canadian bioeconomy and wellbeing of Canadians”. The goal of Spruce-Up is to “accelerate the development and deployment of genomics-improved spruce stock that is more resistant to insects and drought, uses nutrients efficiently and results in improved wood quality and productivity”.

Insect resistant spruce trees (left) tower over insect susceptible spruce trees (right). Repeated attacks by insect pests of susceptible trees result in stunted growth. Genes in resistant trees are being identified thanks to the LSARP funded “Spruce-Up” project. Information generated from Dr. Bohlmann’s spruce genomics program is being used to accelerate the development and deployment of genomics-improved spruce stock.