6 Oct 2017

To-wood the future

From Country Life, 9:27 pm on 6 October 2017

Precision-bred trees will be central to our economy as wood-based products replace plastic and glass fibre in laptop cases, car interiors and even aeroplanes, molecular geneticist Dr Emily Telfer says.

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Photo: Craig Robertson Photography

Emily and other researchers here and overseas are trying to decode the genetic makeup of pine trees.

She believes that within 20 years scientists will know the role of every pinus radiata gene.

"And we will be able to do really focused, precision, selective breeding ... Selective breeding is the process that's taken us from the wolf to the chihuahua, so it's incredibly powerful."

Precision breeding will not only mean straighter, taller trees, she says.

"What we will be using trees for is so beyond just wood. There'll be products that are currently made from plastic and glass fibre which we are reproducing in wood-based products; laptop cases, the interior of cars, of airplanes. They will all be bio-based products."

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Photo: Supplied

Emily believes there will be a whole suite of new products derived from wood.

"Maybe medicines maybe... new colours. Imagine if you could develop genetics that change the colour of trees so you get those beautiful mahogany colours that people are so interested in, without having to mill endangered mahogany."

She expects trees will also be selected for the environmental services they provide and to suit recreational pursuits that happen beneath and around them.

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