The Genome Research group employs molecular biological, biotechnological and bioinformatics methods to elucidate genotype-phenotype associations, with a focus on adaptive and economically important traits. Furthermore, we develop molecular markers for the evaluation of forest genetic resources. These markers are also employed in practical applications for provenance and species identification. For the protection of native forest ecosystems, we evaluate the benefits, potentials and risks of genetic engineering. To improve consumer protection, we develop methods for the identification of genetically modified trees and wood. Finally, we are actively working on transferring state-of-the-art molecular biological methods, such as DNA-free genome editing or third generation sequencing, to forest tree species. In conclusion, our work aims to achieve stable and sustainable forestry management of the future.
While modern plant biotechnology started with cell and tissue culture about 60 years ago, it is nowadays mainly associated with the transfer of foreign DNA through genetic engineering, and the precise DNA-sequence modification by genome editing. The first generation of genetically modified (GM) crops targeted economically important traits, such as herbicide resistance, insect resistance or growth characteristics. In current second and third generations of GM crops, ecological and environmental issues like resource management and climate change are moving center stage. New molecular biological developments and genome editing tools provide exciting opportunities for efficient tree breeding (“next generation plant biotechnology”).
With our bioinformatics team we analyze high-throughput DNA- and RNA-sequencing data in order to develop diagnostic molecular markers and to address functional genomics questions. An important step in many of our analysis pipelines is the genome-wide identification and comparison of genetic variants. For the development of molecular markers for species identification, we also employ whole chloroplast and mitochondrial genomes, some of which we assemble de novo and annotate. Finally we develop databases and bioinformatics tools, to support the institute’s infrastructure.
Natural genetic variation
Naturally occurring mutations and the resulting genetic variation are essential for driving evolution, domestication and breeding. Natural gene variants provide a great resource for improving agricultural and forestry production. For example, alleles conferring field resistance may help to save tree species challenged by pests and diseases, such as the European ash tree that is severely threatened by an introduced fungus. To this end it is crucial to have a thorough understanding of the underlying genetics. The genetic and molecular elucidation of evolutionary important traits (e.g. dioecy) can furthermore yield insights into fundamental biological processes, and thus inform tree breeding and forest management strategies.