Forest Genomics

Ensuring the Health of a Vital Resource

The unprecedented rate of economic globalization is leading to major environmental disruptions, not the least of which is the negative impact on the sustainable development of forests. This should come as no surprise to anyone.

What may be less common knowledge, however, is that Québec is home to world-class researchers working in a branch of science that remains largely unknown to the general public. It’s called “forest genomics.”

Forest genomics is a research field that focuses on developing innovative solutions to ensure the sustainable development of forests and the competitiveness of the forest industry. Genomics offers tremendous potential for the sustainable management of forested land and better economic benefits associated with the harvesting and processing of timber.

Research in forest genomics will generate major solutions to current problems in forestry and provide essential tools to face the challenges ahead:

  • The valorization and preservation of the genetic diversity of forest resources are critical issues for Québec. Through research on genes responsible for features such as wood density, growth rate and resistance to pests and diseases, forest management can be improved by using stronger, better adapted seedlings able to withstand eventual drastic changes in climate. A process known as assisted selection is used to determine the best source of seedlings for reforestation. Just to be clear: we are not talking about genetically modified trees! Assisted selection simply means picking the best seedlings, a practice that goes back to Ancient Greece.
  • Ensuring the health and productivity of Québec and Canadian forests is a major issue, and a critical one at that, given the important role these factors play in terms of the global competitiveness of the forest industry. The genomic technologies used by researchers in forest genomics provide real solutions, which have the potential to expand the range of available management options to improve the future of our forests and ensure our position as a leader in the area of sustainable forest development and timber export.

Climate change

Increased knowledge and new genomic tools in forestry will help us better anticipate and minimize the effects of climate change in Québec, preserve the genetic and biological diversity of natural resources and optimize the capture of carbon in the atmosphere.

It goes without saying that this scientific progress supports sustainable development and opens up new prospects for a cleaner environment and a better future.

Tangible examples in forestry

Scientists are hard at work creating tools that will help pinpoint which trees should be used for reforestation (growth rate, wood quality, adaptability, etc.). Very promising markers have already been identified. In fact, many types of genetically selected crops are now more resistant to parasites and infections than in the past. 

Jean Bousquet and his research team at Université Laval are pioneers in this field in Québec. To learn more about his FastTRAC project, read our information capsule entitled Super Forests.  You can also take a virtual tour of the FastTRAC project.

To learn more about forest genomics, you can also read the special insert in La Presse+ (in French only).

Innovation is Key

A country’s competitive advantage is due to several factors, but its long-term success always depends on its ability to innovate. Forest genomics is one such promising innovation, which is capable of helping Canada consolidate its position on the world stage. Whether it comes to adapting resources to market needs or acquiring better knowledge on the very structure of wood fibre, genomics research promises many benefits for the Canadian economy.