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Benefits of tree genomics, biotechnical advances touted at Clemson conference

Tree improvement specialists and forestry students from across the Southeast gathered at Clemson University’s Madren Center for three days of research presentations and meetings aimed at improving loblolly and slash pine production through advancements in tree genomics and biotechnology.

The 32nd Southern Forest Tree Improvement Conference last week was highlighted by presentations on increasing wood yields through genetic improvement; physiological and DNA marker approaches to species conservation and restoration; and using genetics to improve tree longevity, quality and insect resistance.

The conference is the biennial meeting of the Southern Forest Tree Improvement Committee (SFTIC) and was cohosted by Clemson and Arborgen, a Ridgeville developer of biotechnology tree seedling products and provider of conventional and technology-enhanced seedlings

“The genetics work being presented here has a huge impact on productivity for forest landowners and others who are trying to grow trees as a business," said Dana Nelson, research geneticist and project leader at the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station. "There is also a great deal of work being done to identify different genetic properties to create trees that can produce different products for new and emerging markets.”

One such market is wood-based biofuel and the conversion of woody biomass into cellulosic ethanol to be used as a component of transportation fuel. Wood-based biofuels, bioenergy and bioproducts have the potential to develop economic markets for low-value and small-diameter trees and increase local economic development.

South Carolina State Forester Gene Kodama spoke about the South Carolina Forestry Commission’s 20/15 Initiative, which focuses on growing the state’s $17.4 billion economic impact to $20 billion by 2015 by encouraging landowners to reforest after harvest and afforest idle land.

“Global wood demand is expected to exceed supply in the near future. The South is in a favorable position to grow more wood and expand as the world’s wood basket,” Kodama said.

“Trees are big business in the state of South Carolina and across the South,” said Patricia Layton, forestry professor and director of Clemson’s School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences (SAFES). “Bringing together so many influential forest scientists from industry, government and academia benefits the state’s forestry industry as it prepares to forge new markets for wood fiber.”

The conference also served as a networking opportunity for forest science students pursuing teaching and research posts in university, government and industry settings.

Kelsey Dunnell of North Dakota State University and Laura Townsend of N.C. State University tied for first place in the Southern Forest Tree Improvement Committee research poster competition. Xinfu Zhang of Clemson took third place.

The committee is composed of tree improvement specialists throughout the Southeast United States and has organized and directed tree improvement efforts and sponsored studies, including the first quantification of geographic variation in the southern pines.

Courtesy Clemson is dedicated to serving the agricultural industry in the Carolinas and Virginia with the latest ag news, exclusive regional weather station readings, and key crop market information. The website is a companion of the Southern Farm Network, provider of daily agricultural radio programming to the Carolinas since 1974. presents radio programs, interviews and news relevant to crop and livestock production and research throughout the mid-Atlantic agricultural community.