World first technology can predict the best performing radiata pine

Breeding new, commercially valuable traits into radiata pine is a slow process – but not for much longer. Scion and the Radiata Pine Breeding Company developed a test that can identify those traits quickly and cheaply using a set of DNA markers. It is the first commercially available genotyping array for radiata pine.

The test contains over 36,000 DNA markers that will be used to breed trees that are tall, straight, strong and fast growing. 

It is consistent (99.9 per cent reproducible) and cost-effective to run, making it ideal to begin the commercial uptake of genomics-based breeding programmes. Benefits include enabling radiata pine breeders to identify clonal trees, reveal related trees and establish pine pedigrees for the thoroughbreds of the pine growing industry.

Next steps are to integrate this technology into the breeding cycle and create a step change in radiata pine breeding. The test is nearly 10 times cheaper (per sample) than the only other test on the market, making it more accessible than ever before.

“This work is the culmination of more than five years of collaborative effort and is a credit to those who had the original vision for the programme, as well as those who have delivered the result. We are excited at the prospect of moving to the deployment phase of the new technology, and ultimately seeing the promise of speed and accuracy delivered to forest owners utilising RPBC germplasm in New Zealand and offshore.” - Brent Guild, CEO at the Radiata Pine Breeding Company

The test is performed by running a sample of radiata pine DNA over a chip that contains a selection of DNA markers. If the markers light up in a particular pattern, the tree being tested is likely to grow into a high-quality tree. 

The chip was created by screening hundreds of thousands of DNA markers sampled from trees grown in the field. 

It is a super-efficient way of testing for high value traits. Rather than reconstructing each tree’s entire genome, the test limits the search to the specific parts of the genome that indicate the tree will be a good performer. 

The test can also differentiate between the five recognised regional variations of radiata pine that stem back to their native California. Being able to differentiate at that level indicates that the test should also work well for breeding programmes outside New Zealand, such as Australia and Chile.

The Radiata Pine Breeding Company will be integrating this technology into its programme, and a genomics workshop is planned for 2020 to facilitate industry to take up this incredible new technology.

Funders: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Radiata Pine Breeding Company, Strategic Science Investment Fund
Collaborators: Radiata Pine Breeding Company