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Mr Tim Sexton

profile_sexton_thumbMr Tim Sexton
PhD student

Topic: application of molecular genetics to improve wood quality in Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis SMITH)

Southern Cross University, Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics



Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis SMITH) is the premier hardwood species grown in subtropical plantations of Australia for timber, plywood and veneer. The domestication of Blackbutt is still in its early stages despite a tree breeding programme that has been operating since 1961. Plant breeders are currently making selections from up to two generations of trees from plantation seed collections, as well as from seed collections from individuals in wild populations. Progress in such a tree breeding programme is painfully slow and limited largely by the long generation times of the trees themselves.

Based at the Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics, at Southern Cross University in Lismore, my aim is to identify associations between DNA variation (SNPs) in a candidate gene and desirable wood quality traits of Blackbutt. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are base changes of DNA identified within a particular gene. These changes are responsible for much genetic variation among individuals of a natural population. SNPs can be identified using a number of high throughput technologies which will be assessed for suitability during an initial pilot study. Associations between SNPs in the candidate gene and changes in wood quality traits will be determined using statistical methods.

Assigning molecular markers such as SNPs to wood quality traits would enable the phenotyping of individuals at the seedling stage, effectively overcoming significant setbacks in the domestication of E. pilularis associated with the crop’s long generation times.

Before I became involved with this research, I undertook a Bachelor of Science with majors in Botany and Biochemistry/Molecular Biology as well as Honours in Biochemistry/Molecular Biology at James Cook University in Townsville. Here, I gained valuable research experience cloning and assaying both CAM and C4 photosynthetic enzymes. After completing my degree I kept myself active demonstrating analytical techniques to PhD students at James Cook University, and also working with the Queensland Government Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries on the mango genomics project.

My supervisors are Dr Mervyn Shepherd and Professor Robert Henry of Southern Cross University; and Dr Dane Thomas and Mr Michael Henson of State Forests NSW.

My PhD studies contribute to the CRC for Forestry (RP2.2) Silviculture research project and the (RP2) High Value Wood Resources research programme.

To browse other PhD projects available with the High Value Wood Resources research programme, click here