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This article was originally printed in the December 2005 issue of CLASnotes.

The Genetics of Pine

George Casella

George Casella

The symbol of life in the dead of winter, the evergreen, is used for more than just holiday decorations. In fact, the loblolly pine is the most widely cultivated timber species in the Southeast, accounting for more than half of the nation’s total wood production. Statistics Professor and Chair George Casella, along with IFAS colleagues, is working to decode the loblolly pine genome in hopes of building a better tree.

“The goal is to try to associate phenotypic traits, or traits you can see—such as how the tree grows and its chemical composition—with the genetics, in the ultimate hope of actually manipulating the genetics to have stronger, more disease resistant trees,” Casella says. He and faculty in the UF School of Forest Resources and ConservationGary Peter, John Davis, Dudley Huber and Matias Kirst—have received a $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Plant Genome Research Program to study loblolly pine genetics.

While the IFAS researchers on the team will be identifying gene sequences and collecting trait information—such as growth rate, wood quality and disease resistance—Casella will use his expertise as a statistician to make meaningful associations between the identified genes and those traits. His work is part of the growing field of statistical genetics, which uses statistical methods to help geneticists organize the vast amount of information found in genetic codes, and relate it to traits in a meaningful way. A university-wide graduate program in genetics was recently approved by the Faculty Senate and is slated to begin training future PhD’s in statistical genetics in the fall of 2006.

“Fundamentally, we have gotten to a point where our technology generates an enormous amount of data, so much that we need help organizing and handling it,” says Kenneth Berns, director of the UF Genetics Institute. “When you are dealing with something like population genetics that has so many variables, you need to have special approaches to process all those variables and their applications. That’s where statistical genetics comes in.”

Casella, Peter, Davis, Kirst and Huber are all members of the Genetics Institute and have worked together on several projects since Casella arrived at UF in 2000. The team holds a weekly discussion group on biological and statistical genetics and genomics for faculty and graduate students in CLAS, IFAS and Medicine. According to Berns, the grant is one of the largest the Genetics Institute has received since its creation in 1998.

The team will be comparing 5,000–10,000 of the 50,000 genes in the loblolly pine for relationships to hundreds of traits—focusing on those that unveil the secrets of the tree’s disease resistance and wood quality. The findings will not only help growers produce a better crop, the researchers say, but also reduce pressure to harvest America’s sensitive forest ecosystems, including old-growth forests.

“It is important for our economy to become more efficient, so we are identifying genetically superior trees that can grow on a smaller footprint of land,” Davis says. “If we can grow more wood on fewer acres, it should take the pressure off of harvesting trees that should not be harvested.”

—Buffy Lockette

Grants through the Division of Sponsored Research

October 2005: $2,777,482
Grants for October 2005

BAMIA A A

AALL

US DEPT OF EDUCATION

$3,222

COLLOQUIAL ARABIC, PART OF THE GLOBAL STUDIES RESEARCH AND CURRICULUM

GE J

AST

NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER US DEPT OF THE INTERIOR

$256,050

COMPACT HIGH RESOLUTION 3-D IMAGING SPECTROMETER FOR DISCOVERING OASIS ON MARS

TELESCO C M

AST

CALIFORNIA INST OF TECHNOLOGY JET PROPULSION LABORATORY NASA

$50,661

A MID-INFRARED STUDY OF CIRCUMSTELLAR DEBRIS DISK EVOLUTION

CHRISTOU G

CHE

NEW YORK UNIVERSITY NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$325,147

QUANTUM SPIN DYNAMICS IN MOLECULAR NANOMAGNETS

DOLBIER JR W R

CHE

ARKEMA INC

$94,945

SYNTHESIS OF NOVEL FLUORINATED POLYMERS DERIVED FROM OCTAFLUORO (2.2) PARACYCLOPHANE (AF4)

KATRITZKY A R; HALL C D

CHE

SMITH COLLEGE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$90,370

CATION FLUX BY REDOX-ACTIVE SYNTHETIC ION CHANNELS

SCHANZE K S

CHE

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$186,085

PHOTOPHYSICS, EXCITON AND CHARGE TRANSPORT IN CONJUGATED ORGANOMETALLIC OLIGOMERS AND AGGREGATES

SCHANZE K S

CHE

VISTEON CORPORATION

$19,427

STRAIN SENSITIVE COATING

TAN W

CHE

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

$191,000

GENOMIC APPROACHES TO NEURONAL DIVERSITY AND PLASTICITY

TAN W

CHE

LIFE SCIENCES INC NATL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH

$217,911

HANDHELD GENE ANALYZER BASED ON DYE-DOPED NANOLPARTICLES

SAPIENZA C M

CSD

US DEPT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS GAINESVILLE VA MEDICAL CENTER

$10,000

LABORATORY IMPROVEMENT FOR ORAL MOTOR INITIATIVE

KREPPEL A D

EUS

EUROPEAN UNION

$18,105

JEAN MONNET AD PERSONAM CHAIR

RUSSO R M

GEOL

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$65,617

STUDIES OF CRUST AND UPPER MANTLE STRUCTURE MANTLE FLOW AND GEODYNAMICS OF CHILE RIDGE SUBDUCTION

RUSSO R M

GEOL

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$42,892

STUDIES OF CRUST AND UPPER MANTLE STRUCTURE MANTLE FLOW AND GEODYNAMICS OF CHILE RIDGE SUBDUCTION

RAO M GLOVER J

MAT

NATL SECURITY AGENCY

$10,000

SPECIAL YEAR IN ANALYSIS AND PROBABILITY THEORY 2005-2006

ACOSTA D E; MITSELMAKHER G

PHY

US DEPT OF ENERGY CHICAGO OPERATIONS OFFICE

$46,847

US CMS TRIGGER SUBSYSTEM FY 2004

ACOSTA D E; MITSELMAKHER G

PHY

US DEPT OF ENERGY CHICAGO OPERATIONS OFFICE

$54,000

US CMS TRIGGER SUBSYSTEM FY 2004

HILL S O

PHY

NEW YORK UNIVERSITY NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$325,147

QUANTUM SPIN DYNAMICS IN MOLECULAR NANOMAGNETS

HIRSCHFELD P J

PHY

US NAVY

$64,549

THEORY OF DEFECTS IN CUPRATE SUPERCONDUCTORS

KONIGSBERG J; MITSELMAKHER G

PHY

US DEPT OF ENERGY CHICAGO OPERATIONS OFFICE

$30,445

TASK H: EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH IN COLLIDER PHYSICS AT CDF

MITSELMAKHER G; KORYTOV A

PHY

US DEPT OF ENERGY CHICAGO OPERATIONS OFFICE

$119,102

TASK G: EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH IN COLLIDER PHYSICS AT CMS

MITSELMAKHER G; KORYTOV A

PHY

US DEPT OF ENERGY CHICAGO OPERATIONS OFFICE

$123,355

TASK G: EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH IN COLLIDER PHYSICS AT CMS

MULLER G

PHY

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$128,770

ADVANCED LIGO: RESEARCH ON MODE MATCHING AND CONTROL SYSTEMS

TANNER D B

PHY

US DEPT OF ENERGY CHICAGO OPERATIONS OFFICE

$45,152

UF PARTICIPATION IN ADMX, THE AXION DARK-MATTER EXPERIMENT

WOODARD R P

PHY

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$39,382

QUANTUM FIELD THEORY AND COSMOLOGY

HEDGE D M; WILLIAMS P J

POL

US DEPT OF JUSTICE

$170,961

IMPLEMENT A LEADERSHIP AND PUBLIC SERVICE MENTORING AND EDUCATION

KREPPEL A D

POL

US DEPT OF EDUCATION

$2,000

FLORIDA NETWORK FOR GLOBAL STUDIES TITLE VI NATIONAL RESOURCE CENTER

HERMER-VAZQUEZ L

PSY

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$14,840

DDDAS-TMRP: DYNAMIC DATA-DRIVEN BRAIN-MACHINE INTERFACES

ROWLAND N E

PSY

OSPREY PHARMACEUTICAL

$15,000

NICOTINIC DRUG DESIGN

OSENBERG C W; ST MARY C M

ZOO

FRENCH AMER CULTURAL EXCHANGE

$16,500

OCEANIC BRIDGES: A FLORIDA- FRANCE TRAINING AND RESEARCH COOPERATIVE IN CORAL REEF CONSERVATION AND BIODIVERSITY

Photo by Jane Dominguez

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