Sitka Spruced’s workshop on genomic selection: recap

The Sitka Spruced team held a workshop on the potential for implementation and impacts of genomic selection in UK forestry on Tuesday, 17 September 2019. The development of genomics to accelerate tree breeding is very recent and the workshop clearly showed wide-ranging interest in this new opportunity for the UK. The over fifty attendees were from academia, government, non-profit organizations and forestry industry in both the UK and Ireland. They convened at the Roslin Institute on the University of Edinburgh Easter Bush Campus. Diverse speakers from across the globe presented on the current state of Sitka spruce breeding in the UK and the potential of genomic selection in the morning session. Tim Liddon from Tilhill Forestry Ltd. and Gustavo Lopez from Forest Research presented on current genetic techniques used in Sitka spruce and the gains that have been achieved in forest productivity as well as the challenges for future progress. An overview of the basics of genomic selection was given by Joanna Ilska of the Roslin Institute and this was expanded on by Yousry A. El-Kassaby from the University of British Columbia (Canada), who showed that genomic selection has produced predictive models for accurately selecting Douglas-Fir in Canada. Laurent Bouffier from INRA in Bordeaux (France) explained how DNA markers and genomic data are being integrated into maritime pine breeding in France. John MacKay (University of Oxford, UK), one of the leaders of the Sitka Spruced project, wrapped up the morning session with an overview of the project goals and expected outputs for UK forestry practice. 

The afternoon covered the industry perspective of genomic selection through short talks and round-table discussions. John Hickey from the Roslin Institute kicked off the session with examples of genomic selection impacts in plant and animal breeding, emphasizing the trust farmers place in the breeding values estimated from genomic selection. He was followed by representatives from forestry industries who shared their vision for genomic selection and genomic data impacting their operations. Dave Richardson from Forestart Ltd. seed suppliers and Imam Sayyed from Maleor Forest Nurseries Ltd. discussed how genomics could positively affect the seed supply and plant production sectors. Rob Mackenna from James Jones & Sons Ltd. presented on the needs of the wood processing industry, and Jason Sinden from Gresham House Forestry provided insight on the many factors that go into a successful forestry plantation. Attendees then had time to discuss how genomic selection may help to address challenges in forestry and tree breeding in small groups and brainstorm what infrastructure may bring academia, government, and industry together to address these problems within and beyond the Sitka Spruced project. 

The workshop offered an opportunity for project team members and members of academia, government, and industry to exchange knowledge on problems and research developments, and facilitate continued collaboration among the sectors. A future workshop is planned at the conclusion of the Sitka Spruced project to share project outputs and discuss future directions for further development and implementation.