Genome Canada, Genome BC award University of British Columbia C$32.6M for research projects aimed at making Canada's forests healthier, more economically productive

Lorena Madrigal

Lorena Madrigal

VANCOUVER, B.C. , September 21, 2011 (press release) – The University of British Columbia welcomed the announcement of $32.6 million in funding from Genome Canada and Genome BC for four research projects aimed at making Canada’s forests healthier and more economically productive.

Announced at an event in Edmonton on Tuesday and an event today at UBC’s Vancouver campus, the funding will support research in the departments of botany, and microbiology and immunology, and in the Faculty of Forestry.

The funded projects aim to develop clean energy alternatives, enhance the use of forest biomass, understand the effects of climate change on the forest and identify trees with superior growth and wood properties.

“Canada relies on its forests for environmental and economic productivity,” said John Hepburn, UBC Vice President Research and International. “The support from Genome Canada and Genome BC is instrumental in the work UBC is doing to ensure our forests are used in the most sustainable way possible.”

Funding from Genome Canada and Genome BC is part of Genome Canada’s 2010 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition.

More information about the four UBC projects:

Assessing the adaptive portfolio of reforestation stocks for future climates

Sally Aitken, a researcher in the Faculty of Forestry, and University of Alberta colleague Andreas Hamann were awarded $4.7 million to lead a team as they sequence the DNA of lodgepole pine and spruce seedlings, aiming to better understand which genes are involved in how trees adapt to local climatic conditions. Climate change is predicted to alter British Columbia and Alberta forests to the point where seedlings that were once well adapted to specific regions will be poorly adapted to their environments. This research will lead to ensuring that the right trees get planted in the right climatic areas.

SMarTForest: Spruce marker technology for sustainable forestry

The SMarTForest project, co-led by Joerg Bohlmann, Distinguished University Scholar and professor in the Faculty of Forestry and Michael Smith Laboratories at UBC, and Laval University professor John MacKay, was awarded $10.3 million to study spruce trees, which account for more than half of the seedlings planted each year in Canada. The project will use genomics to develop markers for improved growth, wood properties, insect resistance, and adaptation to climate. Environmental change is creating problems for Canada’s forests and the $68-billion industry that it supports. The SMarTForest project, in collaboration with existing tree breeding programs, aims to improve the yield and value from spruce forests and will be among the first in the world to sequence a conifer genome.

POPCAN: Genetic Improvement of Poplar Trees as a Canadian Bioenergy Feedstock

Carl Douglas, a researcher in the Department of Botany, and Shawn Mansfield, a researcher Department of Wood Science, were awarded $9.8 million to lead a project that uses genomics to develop markers to aid in the selection and planting of new poplar genotypes better suited for biofuel production and plantation growth. This work will contribute to efforts to hit government-mandated targets that require a minimum of five per cent of gasoline to be composed of renewable fuel. The team will study two prominent Canadian poplar species that are viewed as strong candidates for this program because they are fast-growing, inhabit a variety of climatic zones and possess wood properties that are better suited for conversion to liquid transportation fuel such as ethanol.

Harnessing microbial diversity for sustainable use of forest biomass resources

Lindsay Eltis and William Mohn, researchers from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, were awarded $7.8 million to explore new ways to manage forest biomass, a potential source of biofuels, feedstocks and other products such as resins and carbon fibres. The project will study the microorganisms found in soil that naturally degrade biomass in an effort to develop better forest management practices and innovative new products.

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