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KTH is the first in the world to analyse the gene activity of forest trees

KTH will use the latest genetic analysis methods to increase understanding of the Swedish forest's genome. This will create opportunities for better breeding methods and a more climate-proof forest.

Stefania Giacomello

KTH is an internationally prominent developer of new methods for genetic analysis. Several new technologies have been developed here in recent years. So far they have mostly been used to understand humans, but now scientists are turning their attention to the Swedish forest.

A greater understanding of the gene activity of trees has many benefits. Deeper knowledge in this area enables more precise breeding methods, with a substantial improvement in growth capacity of the forest. In addition, the new methods have the potential to improve the quality regulation of individual trees. In the long run, it may be possible to develop completely new wood materials for novel applications in the construction and manufacturing industries. There is also the potential to develop today's tree varieties so that they can better cope with climate change.

Investigating the gene activity of trees

The techniques to be used by the researchers include single-cell sequencing and Spatial Transcriptomics, a technique developed at KTH. The goal is to see which genes are expressed in individual cells. By investigating the gene activity of trees in different seasons, we can advance our knowledge of the conditions and properties of various trees.

With the help of traditional breeding techniques, this understanding can lead to more insightful plant breeding. In the future, knowledge in this area can be combined with genetic engineering to develop more accurate and faster breeding methods.

However, in order to be able to use these techniques to study wood, further development is required – including of the method used to separate individual plant cells. In trees, they are protected in a completely different way than in other organisms, such as mammals.

KTH has solved the problem

Until now, this seemed to be an almost insurmountable task. But thanks to previous research projects in plant genetics conducted at SciLifeLab, KTH has now overcome the problem.

KTH will be the first in the world to use new genetic techniques and methods to understand the molecular mechanisms of trees. This will strengthen Sweden's position as an internationally leading ‘wood nation’. It will also yield clear benefits for today's forest industry, throughout the chain – from forestry to breeding and products.

KTH's initiative

We wish to develop current methods for the analysis of the genome of mammals in order to apply them to forest trees. These include the single-cell sequencing of RNA, in situ sequencing (ISS) and Spatial Transcriptomics. The adaptation of these methods has already begun, and now we wish to complete our work using the infrastructure at SciLifeLab.

Why KTH?

KTH is part of SciLifeLab, which is a world-leading environment for research and development in the fields of molecular biology and genetics. Several new methods have been developed there which provide a better understanding of the genetic factors and molecular mechanisms behind our major endemic diseases. KTH has a strong tradition of outstanding wood research. Among other things, KTH is home to the Wallenberg Wood Science Centre (WWSC), a powerful initiative to advance research on new materials derived from forest raw materials, which will run until 2028.

How will we achieve our goals?

Over the next four years, we wish to develop current techniques and analytical methods in molecular biology and genetics in order to apply them to plants and trees. We estimate that this effort will demand the full-time employment of approximately two PhD students and two postdocs. Here we will be able to make the most of the existing infrastructure at SciLifeLab. After the method development phase, we can deepen our understanding of which genes are the keys to various properties of the trees.

Page responsible:Sofia Tatsis
Belongs to: About KTH
Last changed: Jul 07, 2020