Scientists at the Umeå Plant Science Centre—an excellence centre UPSC ind GSOldgrowth confierous forest in Sweden. Photo courtesy of the Umeå Plant Science Centre.
in tree breading and forest-sourced raw materials research, and a professional home to many a Bio4Energy scientist—have launched a call for candidates to join its freshly created industry-oriented graduate school.

The graduate school is one leg in ongoing efforts to secure a new generation of researchers equipped with the skills to work "in the intersection between classical tree breeding, molecular genetics and functional genomics", UPSC scientists explain in the call for applications. As the forestry industry seeks renewal to keep up with calls for products that are efficient in terms of cost and resource use, and have a limited environmental footprint, new business strategies are needed—and new skills. 

Eight graduate students will be employed for five years to carry out research and trials on behalf either of one of the five participating industrial companies or of the research institute involved. Their research on forest-related topics will constitute a pool of knowledge for the forestry companies involved in the areas of "modern tree breeding and use of trees and tree-derived products".

Graduate students will be recruited across the following topics or issue:
  • The genetic basis of heterosis; 
  • The development of genetic tools to modify wood properties of forest trees;
  • Regulation of root development from somatic embryos of Norway spruce;
  • Norway spruce adaptation to varying climatic conditions;
  • Population genomics of forest trees;
  • Development of breeding objectives for forest trees;
  • Genome-wide association and genomic selection for forest trees and;
  • How can we optimise the growth of conifer seedlings in a modern seedling nursery? 

A scientific 'revolution'    

In their call for applications, the UPSC scientist say that, while demand for bioenergy, biofuel and forest-sourced products is increasing, it coincides with greater competition for land as the global population grows. That fight, they say, is likely to be won by those bidding to use the land for agricultural or urban development. So trees have to be designed that can provide either more energy per unit of biomass or be further fit for whatever the purpose is for their use. In each case, a chief aim is to minimise the tree growing area while maximising the yield.   

The scientists also recall that the forest industry is one of the most important export industries in Sweden. Moreover, the production and use of tree-derived resources is increasingly important internationally, they say;

"Today, our forests are not only supposed to meet the demands of an increasing population for pulp, paper and building materials, but are also expected to give an increasing contribution to our needs for bioenergy, biofuels and new materials that can replace plastics, steel and concrete", the call for applications reads;
 
"Because of the competition for the increasing demands of land for food production, it is unlikely that much more land will be available for forest plantations in the future. We will therefore have to produce more wood on the same amount of land (or even on less). Modern tree breeding and biotechnology can help to address this challenge.

"We are currently going through a scientific revolution where we can for the first time efficiently determine what the tree genomes look like and understand the function of the genes controlling important traits. This will be important tools for future tree breeding and the use of wood-derived resources".

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