Breeding better trees

Growth and wood quality traits in Pinus radiata are highly heritable. Scion uses a combination of phenotyping and genetic selection techniques to develop breeding programmes to develop traits that are of commercial value to the forest industry. Our breeding programmes have raised the value of the national radiata pine forest estate by an estimated $3.5 billion. Highly improved stocks that are now being planted could add a further $8.5 billion to the industry (2017).

Tree selection and breeding

Scion geneticists use a range of technologies to improve tree growth, form, resistance to pests and diseases and wood quality. These include seed and pollen collection; gene mapping and DNA fingerprinting; molecular breeding and genomic selection. Quantitative genetics is used to determine accurate breeding values and genetic gain predictions.

We carry out field trials in our research nursery to assess the growth and wood properties of young trees before their germplasm is released to the forest industry.

Read about our research nursery [pdf]

Watch "Radiata pine tree breeding in New Zealand: genetic heritage trail" [YouTube]

Our breeding programmes also include Douglas-fir, cypresses, eucalypts and coast redwoods.


Heidi Dungey, Science Leader, Forest Genetics

Advanced propagation technologies for forest species

A range of technologies for mass propagation have been developed for a diverse range of forest and indigenous species. Scion uses both tissue culture and traditional nursery propagation methods.

Our tissue culture laboratory specialises in organogenesis and embryogenesis protocols for clonal forestry. The protocols we have developed for Pinus radiata now extend to Douglas-fir, cypresses, eucalypts, redwoods, kauri and other indigenous species, particularly those with irregular seed years such as podocarps and beeches.

Our cryogenic facilities mean embryogenic cultures can be stored and propagated some eight years later when the results of field tests are known.

Watch "Embryogenesis of radiata pine: tree obstetrics on a commercial scale" [YouTube]

The research nursery uses containerised and bare-root technologies to provide high quality plants and cloned plants to the forestry industry. We also develop grafting solutions for indigenous, new or difficult to grow species.

Watch a video about our nursery [YouTube]

Read about:


Heidi Dungey, Science Leader, Forest Genetics

Plant biotechnologies for genetic improvement

Genetic modification (GM) or genetic engineering (GE) is a breeding technique that gives plant breeders the ability to introduce a single, clearly identified desirable trait such as disease resistance into a population where it is not normally or readily available.

We are a global leader in radiata pine biotechnology with our research into improving the productivity and quality of commercially-grown forestry species. We are working with regulatory authorities to define clear pathways for their implementation in the future.

All our work with new organisms is carried out in Physical Containment Level 2 (PC2) certified laboratories (EPA).

No genes of animal or human origin, or from indigenous flora, are, or have been used in this research.

Genetic modification science at Scion

Growth rate, wood stability and density, herbicide tolerance, biomass utilisation and reproductive development are among the traits being investigated.

Find out how geneticists plan to identify and modify genes to control the spread of wilding pines [YouTube]

Field trials of genetically modified trees

Planting GM trees in the open is necessary to prove whether or not the trait of interest has improved. Trees in field trials are grown for a maximum number of years or until they begin to develop cones and pollen (whichever comes first). Trees are grown in an access restricted facility in accordance with Environmental Protection Authority controls.

Maori perspective on Scion’s genetic modification work

Scion is in frequent communication with Mana Whenua, who support the research. The booklet Te Maramantanga o Te Tipuranga (understanding (maramatanga) of growth (tipuranga)) informs hapu and iwi of Scion’s mahi (work) on genetically modified pine and spruce trees.


Glenn Thorlby, Scientist, Quantitative Genomics