Marker Aided Selection (MAS) in Sitka spruce


This project aims to enable future selection of trees to be based on breeding values estimated on the presence or absence of DNA-markers identified in the laboratory.

Research objectives

  • In co-operation with animal breeders, develop DNA-marker protocols across a range of economic traits (quantity and quality)
  • Improve the accuracy of selection, total genetic gain, cost effectiveness of programme, and delivery to forest of improved planting stock
  • Establish knowledge-base enabling transfer of skills to other characteristics such as tolerance of forest pests, or environmental extremes.

Results so far

  • Successful establishment of x3 large clonal trials, planted across a range of climates and latitudes, designed specifically to assist in future associations between field performance and markers.
  • Under EU contract ‘Novel Tree’, high accuracy achieved between 5-year bud-burst and 6-year height for one full-sib family growing on a warm site in southern England.
  • Co-editor of state-of-the-art book on genomic selection in trees under the EU contract ‘Novel Tree’.


  • Programme started in 2002; to be reviewed in 2015/16
  • Current activities involve maintenance of the large clonal trials and looking for associations between DNA-markers and wood quality characteristics under the EU contract ‘ProCoGen’


Steve Lee

Funders and partners

  • Main funder is the EU under the 7th Framework contract:
    • ProCoGen : ‘ Promoting a functional and comparative understanding of the conifer genome. Implementing applied aspects for more productive and applied forests

Develop an integrative and multidisciplinary genomic research in conifers, using high-throughput platforms for sequencing, genotyping and functional analysis, to unravel genome organization and identification of genes and gene networks controlling important ecological and economic traits, such as those related to the control and

the reduction of climatic change impact in relation to growth, drought and cold stress.

  • An important co-funder of the ProCoGen contract is the Corporate Forestry Services (CFS) of the Forestry Commission who also fund all phenotypic assessments in forest-based trials.
  • A key partner is:

Forestry Commission policy

Marker Aided Selection is a high-tech tool which will potentially speed up the accuracy and process associated with tree breeding. It is currently not operational but once developed could be used to replace extensive and expensive field-based genetic trials. To this end it meets the forestry objectives of England, Scotland and Wales each of whom seek to increase the value of their plantations and woodlands by establishing well adapted, good quality planting stock. Whether the new technology proves to be cost-effective and replace traditional methods on a practical scale remains to be seen meantime.