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This project aims to enable future selection of trees to be based on breeding values estimated on the presence or absence of DNA-markers identified in the laboratory.

Research objectives

  • In co-operation with animal breeders, develop DNA-marker protocols across a range of economic traits (quantity and quality)
  • Improve the accuracy of selection, total genetic gain, cost effectiveness of programme, and delivery to forest of improved planting stock
  • Establish knowledge-base enabling transfer of skills to other characteristics such as tolerance of forest pests, or environmental extremes.

Results so far

  • Successful establishment of x3 large clonal trials, planted across a range of climates and latitudes, designed specifically to assist in future associations between field performance and markers.
  • Under EU contract ‘Novel Tree’ (final report summary), high accuracy achieved between 5-year bud-burst and 6-year height for one full-sib family growing on a warm site in southern England. This work has now been peer-reviewed and published in Tree Genomics and Genetics
  • Co-editor of state-of-the-art book on genomic selection in trees under the EU contract ‘Novel Tree’.
  • Presentation on work to date at ‘Forest Genetics 2013’, Whistler, British Columbia
  • Under EU Contract ‘ProCoGen’ investigate the association between 11-year height and wood density measured indirectly using the Pilodyn gun. This work has yet to be fully written up.


  • Programme started in 2002;
  • Regular assessments for tree height, bud burst, wood density
  • Current activities involve maintenance of the large clonal trials and completing the work on associations between DNA-markers and wood quality characteristics using data collected under the EU contract ‘ProCoGen’

Funders and partners

  • Forestry Commission core funding paid for establishment, maintenances and all phenotypic assessments in the forest-based trials.
  • All assessments carried out by the FR Technical Support Unit.
  • EU contract ‘Noveltree’; 2008 – 2012. Contract number: 211868.
  • EU 7th Framework contract: ProCoGen; 2012-2016. Contract number: 289841: ‘Promoting a functional and comparative understanding of the conifer genome. Implementing applied aspects for more productive and applied forests’
  • A key partner is: Roslin Institute

Forestry Commission policy
Marker Aided Selection is a high-tech tool which will potentially speed up the accuracy and process associated with tree breeding. It is currently not operational but once developed could be used to replace extensive and expensive field-based genetic trials. To this end it meets the forestry objectives of England, Scotland and Wales each of whom seek to increase the value of their plantations and woodlands by establishing well adapted, good quality planting stock. Whether the new technology proves to be cost-effective and replace traditional methods on a practical scale remains to be seen meantime.

What’s of interest

February 2017 paper in Tree Genetics & Genomes

Tree improvement
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Tree improvement