Current and Potential Application of Biotechnology in Forestry: A Critical Review

Andrea Sonnino

Abstract: The world’s total forest area is just over 4 billion hectares, or 31 per cent of the total land area. Forests provide wood, timber and a vast array of products and services. Forests also play a very significant role in carbon sequestration and host much of the world’s biodiversity. Forest trees have unique characteristics, including high heterozygosity, long generation intervals, vulnerability to inbreeding depression, narrow regional adaptation and the fact that the majority of the species are undomesticated, thus generating unique challenges and opportunities for biotechnology applications. Biotechnology has advanced considerably in the last decade and has contributed to improving characterisation, conservation and utilisation strategies for genetic resources, as well as advanced technologies for mass propagation, genetic improvement and biomass utilisation. Forest biotechnology is developing along a separate path from crop biotechnology. It is expanding very rapidly; covers an increasing number of taxa; and is no longer restricted to tree species used in plantation forestry. However, forest trees have received less attention than crop plants and domestic animals. The development and application of biotechnology are progressing at a much lower pace in developing countries than in industrialised countries. This paper briefly reviews the development of biotechnology and discusses its current and potential application in the forestry sector, with special attention to smallholders and to tropical areas.

Keywords: Forest genetic resources, molecular markers, micropropagation, genomics, ligno-cellulosic biomass.