FastTRAC II (Fast Tests for Rating and Amelioration of Conifers) is a large-scale applied genomic project funded by Genome Canada, Génome Québec and multiple organizations through the Genomics Applied Partnership Program (GAPP). It brings together scientists, tree breeders, and foresters to demonstrate and apply genomic-assisted selection at the operational scale of tree improvement programs as a method for more rapidly rating candidate trees for productivity and resilience attributes, so to hasten the selection and reforestation of improved and adapted stock.

The approach, which is based on rapid screening of natural genetic variation available in tree breeding programs, will allow more flexibility to tree breeders in monitoring and adjusting spruce stock in the context of changing climate and economic markets, as well as reducing rotation age and risk in the face of an uncertain future. The reforestation of improved stock together with more intensive forestry on a limited part of the forest landscape shall also contribute towards reducing harvesting pressures on pristine natural forests in the future and dedicate them in priority to conservation and recreational purposes.

FastTRAC II follows FastTRAC I, which focused on white spruce and Norway spruce. The present project is focusing on black spruce and red spruce, another group of commercially important trees largely planted across eastern Canada. The project aims to provide the genetic values of candidate spruces at the seedling stage or even at the embryo stage, for traits that are expressed at a later age or at the mature stage. Using genomic profiles made of genetic information for thousands of gene loci, the method allows for the ranking of candidate trees within a few months rather than waiting up to 30 years, as is usually the case for field evaluations of traits of economical or adaptive importance in boreal conifers.

The project has three main thrusts. First, to conceive and build a high-throughput genotyping chip and genotype close to 15,000 trees so to obtain their unique genomic profiles. Second, to build and validate genomic prediction models so to rank thousands of red spruces and black spruces for C sequestration, productivity and wood quality traits, as well as for better resilience in the context of climate change, such as improved drought resistance. In line with this, multi-trait selection schemes will be developed and tested given the large number of genotyped candidate trees. Third, and in function of the noted natural introgression taking place between these two closely-related but ecologically contrasted species, indices of introgression at the genomic level will be obtained for all candidate trees, allowing the mapping of natural introgression and the evaluation of its effects on productivity and resilience traits.

FastTRAC II capitalizes on successful proof of concept demonstrations and genomic investments made over the last decade by Genome Canada, Génome Québec and our partners. The project has built-in user uptake capacity by forest sector organizations ready to apply this new technology in their advanced spruce breeding programs or already applying the technology, including for the monitoring and management of genetic diversity, and accelerated stock selection for productive and adapted plantations in the context of reforestation in areas devoted to intensive short-rotation forestry in the era of climate change. These users include the Québec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Energy

Development, and J.D. Irving Ltd in the Maritimes. Additionally, the strong innovation partnership of Université Laval through the Canada Research Chair in Forest Genomics, and the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre of Natural Resources Canada stands to facilitate the rapid adoption of FastTRAC II technologies and extend their benefits to other tree breeding programs and users of the forest sector throughout Canada.

FastTRAC II Co-leaders:

  • Université Laval – Canada Research Chair in Forest Genomics, Prof. Jean Bousquet, Academic Leader
  • Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC), Dr. Patrick Lenz, Leader of the Partners

Project partners immediate users of the technology:

  • Québec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (MFFPQ)
  • Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (NSDNRR)
  • New Brunswick Department of Energy and Resource Development (NBDERD)
  • J.D. Irving Ltd (JDI)

Other project partners

  • Canadian Forest Service (CFS)