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Sustainable Utilisation and Conservation of Forests in the Genomics Era


Australian delegates enjoyed the generous hospitality of Conference Chair Prof Wikneswari Ratnam and her husband.  From left: Rod Griffin, Dorothy Steane, René Vaillancourt, Wikneswari Ratnam, Brad Potts, Chris Harwood, Andy Ratnam, Simon Southerton (CSIRO, Canberra) [Image: Brad Potts]


Dot  walks on air at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia [Image: Brad Potts]

A group of CRC researchers made a significant impact at the IUFRO Malaysia 2010 conference, entitled “Sustainable Utilisation and Conservation of Forests in the Genomics Era” (Kuala Lumpur, 7-12 March 2010).  Brad Potts, Dorothy Steane (Subproject 4.2), Chris Harwood (CSIRO) and René Vaillancourt (UTAS) (Project 2 - Quality Wood Products) and Rod Griffin, who is also involved with subproject 4.2.7, attended the event. Both Chris and Rod were wearing their Acacia hats for the purposes of their research presentations. Each researcher gave an (invited or plenary) oral presentation that highlighted different aspects of forest genetics research: breeding, propagation, gene flow, quantitative traits and molecular genetics.  As a team there was a good overview of the types of research that are happening at UTAS and in the CRC. Brad spoke about assessing and managing the risk of gene flow from forest tree plantations into native vegetation (read abstract); Dot extolled the virtues of DArT markers for population genetics and phylogenetics in Eucalyptus (read abstract); and René gave an educational presentation on the detection of QTLs that influence growth and wood properties in Eucalyptus (read abstract).

The audience comprised researchers from many regions including north and south America, India, China, Vietnam, Japan, SE Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe. There was a strong contingent of Malaysian students, many of whom were involved in the organization of the conference and also gave high quality oral or poster presentations.

The conference was held in the value-for-money Legend Hotel which provided delegates with masses of fantastic food at every possible opportunity, excellent conference facilities and comfortable rooms that had a generous supply of technical and technological idiosyncrasies.  The hotel was just a train ride from the city centre where we had ample opportunities to sample the weird and wonderful cuisine and the colourful, noisy chaos of a busy Asian city.

The conference was relatively small with a maximum of two concurrent sessions.  The sessions covered all levels of genetics, from phylogenetics and phylogeography, through population genetics, quantitative genetics and breeding, down to the minutiae of gene expression and functional analysis.  There were some interesting sessions that delved into how people (actually, computers) analyse the huge amount of sequence data that come out of genome sequencing projects, and there were talks about how genome "resequencing" is being used for phylogenetics.  The recurring theme in the conference was the increasing practicality and affordability of using genomics technology (e.g., whole or partial genome sequencing) for many aspects of genetics research.

On the final evening the chair of the organising committee, Prof. Wikneswari Ratnam, who spent several months in the molecular genetics lab at UTAS several years ago, invited all the Australian presenters to dinner at her very comfortable home on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.  Wicki and her husband, Andy, were highly amused by the conversion of the dinner party into a pool party; the 20 m outdoor pool surrounded by palm trees in the midst of a tropical garden was more than the poor Tasmanians and Canberrans could bear on a hot evening!

The final day of the conference involved a field trip to the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) which is set amongst a planted tropical forest.  The forest contains all sorts of tropical species that would not necessarily be found growing together naturally, but in true tropical fashion the lush rainforest did seem very wild and rampant.  We had a good walk up a big (sweaty) hill to a "canopy walk" that was akin to Forestry Tasmania's Tahune Air Walk.  The Australian OH&S standards clearly had not been applied to the FRIM construction, although the suspension bridges would have passed with flying colours at a boy scout jamboree!  The suspended walkways were constructed from planks laid on top of horizontal ladders that were tied together with sturdy ropes and suspended between tall forest trees.  There was a platform at each tree that allowed people to enjoy the view of Kuala Lumpur and the forest canopy.

Biobuzz issue eleven, May 2010