Lab Canada

Analysis of first complete tree genome is published

Ottawa, ON – In a cover article published in last week’s Science magazine, an international consortium of scientists representing 34 organizations, including the US Department of Energy (DOE), the University of British Columbia, Genome Canada, Genome British Columbia, and the Umea Plant Science Centre in Sweden, disclosed its analysis of the first complete DNA sequence of a tree, Populus trichocarpa. Also known as the Black Cottonwood or poplar, it is one of the most ecologically and commercially valuable group of trees in North America. The consortium was first to release a draft sequence of the poplar genome in 2004.

The consortiums research compares the poplar sequence with the genomes of rice and the weed Arabidopsis to shed light on the trees evolution and identify novel traits. The fast-growing poplar was only the third plant genome to be sequenced after Arabidopsis and rice.

Findings will help researchers develop important environmental applications, including trees that produce more biomass for conversion to biofuels and trees that can sequester more carbon from the atmosphere, helping to mitigate climate change effects.

The sequence will also help scientists identify naturally occurring traits that protect trees against insects and disease, which could aid in the selection and breeding of trees with built-in protection, and lead to the development of tools for early detection and control of pests and diseases.

This accomplishment would not have been possible without the highly organized and cooperative efforts of a global consortium of top scientists from a variety of disciplines, says Dr Martin Godbout, president and CEO of Genome Canada. The results are very timely as the forest industry in Canada faces its worst natural disaster ever – the pine beetle infestation – the potential beneficial impact of this research cannot be overstated.

Canadas forests are the engine behind an industry worth about $80.3 billion. The pine beetle has so far devastated over 8.5 million hectares in BC and has already crossed the Rocky Mountains into Alberta.

The sequencing is extremely valuable as attributes found in poplar will also be applicable to other trees, says Alan Winter, president and CEO of Genome BC. This research will help provide a solid base in tree genomics to advance biological knowledge and aid breeding programs. Despite increasing pressure on forestry resources through human demand, pest outbreaks and global climate change, tree breeding for improved yield, quality and pest resistance is still in its infancy.

The Canadian research team was led by Carl Douglas, Kermit Ritland, Jrg Bohlmann, and Brian Ellis from the University of British Columbia. Knowledge gained from the project is being shared directly with the BC Ministry of Forests and Range.

The two-year project was coordinated by the US Department of Energy (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and powered by the sequencing engine of the DOE Joint Genome Institute.

The research partnership includes Genome Canada through Genome British Columbia and the University of British Columbia, and the BC Cancer Agencys Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, which jointly implemented vital DNA mapping, sequencing, and fingerprinting strategies. Genome Canada and Genome BC have invested a total of $9.8 million in the British Columbia Forestry Genomics project, of which $2 million was dedicated to the poplar initiative.

The genome browser, developed by the Joint Genome Institute (JGI) and accessible at, is the repository for all the poplar sequence information.