Gene editing makes farming more sustainable—and it can do the same for forestry

sun shining through tall trees in forest
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A company founded by two NC State researchers is setting out to revolutionize the forestry industry by combining insights from tree genetics with the power of genome editing.

Like farmers, foresters are facing plagues of invasive pests, increasingly severe storms and changing weather patterns. Unlike farmers, foresters have been slow to adopt new technologies such as genome editing that can mitigate these challenges.

Jack Wang, an assistant professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources and co-founder of TreeCo, has extensive experience studying and computationally modeling which tree genes are responsible for important traits. Wang, and the College of Natural Resources, has elite breeding lines and seed banks of commercially important trees such as pines, firs, poplars, and hemlocks.

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“We have identified several unique gene targets that could confer significant trait improvements in stress resistance, or for improved conversion of wood into a particular fiber or chemical product,” Wang said.

“But before today, there has not been a feasible route to modify these genes that would enable trait improvement, particularly for commercial applications or ecosystem conservation. But new genome editing technologies will make forestry an efficient, robust industry that can meet the needs of society.”

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