The increase in global demand for wood requires increase in forest productivity. There is, therefore, a need to invest more in the research and development (R&D) of high-yield, faster growth and short-rotation plantation forests. And forest biotechnology is essential to achieve this goal.
Biotechnology may augment traditional tree improvement activities by providing adequate tools to tree breeders and supplementing the production of high quality planting materials. Realising the needs, a joint industry-university smart partnership research programme between Sarawak Forestry Corporation and UNIMAS was sealed to provide requisite applied R&D and technical support for the development of plantation forests in the State of Sarawak. That included activities on forest genomics, biotechnology and tree improvement geared towards enhancing commercial plantation forests as well as a sustainable management of forest resources in Sarawak.
Using state-of-the-art technologies and approaches, development of adequate tools would enable the production of trees that are adapted to local conditions. The Forest Genomics Laboratory at UNIMAS are currently active in developing highly informative and polymorphic genetic markers/tools specific for identifying the genetic makeup of two fast growing indigenous tree species, Kelampayan and Sawih. These markers can then be used for a more accurate means of selecting trees for plantation and improvement activities of the species.
The joint R&D programme is also looking at the genetic transcript to better understand certain important cellular processes such as the genetic control of wood formation in the selected tree species; for example, which genes affect a desirable trait and how variations (mutations) in those genes influence an individual plant. By associating certain genetic makeup with a particular plant characteristic, early selection of improved planting materials for plantation establishment can be achieved at the seedling stage, thus resulting in a better economic return.