Just as were hearing the news of the first functional genomics
discoveries, Dr. Ron Sederoff, distinguished university professor
and director of NC States Forest Biotechnology Laboratory (FBL),
is already pushing toward what the world needs next. It is now
time to use what we already know of genomics to accomplish economically
important social goals, says Sederoff. Researchers are
already using many genomic sciences discoveries for applications in
human, animal and crop health. Its time for us to work harder
on environmental health.
For example, Sederoff says, If we can bioengineer fast-growing,
high-yield trees with other specialty features and grow them as crops
for human needs, we can largely leave the natural forests alone. Its
doable and it will be profitable in many ways. He cautions,
however, that any crop of genetically modified trees would also need
to be engineered to restrict its ability to cross- pollinate, thereby
preserving the genetic integrity of existing forests.
Many environmentally important uses of genomics discoveries are subjects
of intense development in other programs at NC State: rescuing endangered
species; bioremediating waste; encouraging biodiversity, and protecting
ecosystems. Sederoff is proposing a full frontal attack on the big
picture of deforestation, habitat destruction, and climate change
through a rapid acceleration of the domestication of trees,
or the modification of trees to solve environmental problems.
Domestication of trees is not a new idea to forest biotechnologists,
but most agree that the process could be rapidly accelerated with
appropriate funding from federal and state governments. It took
thousands of years for humans to domesticate plants through the use
of plant breeding, Sederoff says. We cant wait that
long to preserve the worlds natural forests.
As one way of speeding things along, Sederoff has teamed with Dr.
Hou-Min Chang and several other NC State researchers on a newly granted
$3 million U.S. Department of Agriculture project. If successful,
researchers will use what is already known about the pine tree genome
to improve the loblolly pine to produce more wood on less land in
The FBL, which largely focuses on the pine tree genome, is the oldest
and one of the largest tree genomics groups in the world. It is the
only large-scale tree genomics project sponsored by the National Science
In July 2000, the FBL moved to a new $3 million facility, co-locating
with other major genomics research and service laboratories. Within
the time it took to upfit and equip the new building, the FBL and
collaborating researchers had parlayed the promise of the new laboratory
and its partnerships into a three-year, $4.4-million grant from NSF.
The laboratorys research group, which now consists of 41 faculty
and staff members, post-docs, graduate students and technicians, has
published 80 papers in leading scientific journals, authored a book
and received six patents. Having attracted more than $18 million in
external funding since its inception in 1985, the FBL has a $2.3-million
budget this year. It has developed one of the worlds most advanced
systems for genetic mapping using amplified DNA fragment technology
and automatic DNA sequencers.
Its our responsibility as a leader in research to move
our results into applications as rapidly as possible, says J.B.
Jett, associate dean for research in the College of Natural Resources.
The excellence of our forest biotechnology researchers is putting
us in reach of the goal Ron and others have laid out.
more information, please visit http://www2.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/project/forestbiotech/