Genetic Improvement

Alasia Franco Genetic Improvement

Experimentation on Salicaceae:

Poplar (Populus spp.) and willow (Salix spp.) trees are widely cultivated in Europe, so there are well-established, highly-mechanized cultivation techniques. Alasia Franco Vivai focuses its genetic improvement program on Salicaceae, and on Populus in particular, for their features:

high productivity in countries with temperate climate;

good aptitude for cultivation at different latitudes;

intensive management;

wide intra- and inter-specific variability;

good aptitude for hybridisation;

genetic improvement for increasingly efficient clones.

Moreover, Populus is currently considered as a model plant for molecular biology studies on trees, thanks to its relatively small, fully sequenced genome. Such knowledge, together with new scientific findings on genomic regions that contribute to the expression of a specific quantitative character, will enhance genetic selection and improvement activities with the help of new techniques based on molecular markers (Marker-assisted Selection – MAS, Genomic Selection – GS) for a quicker and safer genetic progress.

As for willow, our company focuses on arboreal species and their hybrids, namely Salix alba (Europe), Salix matsudana (China) e Salix nigra (North America).

Genetic improvement program:

The program we follow is aimed at identifying the best germ plasm for the development of new clones, in turn selected according to criteria that are functional to the final destination of the product.

Our genetic improvement program includes:

collection of germ plasm from spontaneous populations;

comparison and selection of the best genotypes of each provenance in the areas of origin;

controlled hybridisation and progeny testing;

selection of the best hybrids;

large-scale, outdoor multi-site testing;

selection of the best site-specific clones;

registration of clones;

Plant breeders’ rights for commercial clones

Genetic improvement goals and selection criteria

Our genetic improvement program is based on 4 selection goals:

resistance to diseases (rusts, bronzing, Spring defoliation and insects)

accretion (height, diameter, biomass production)

plant conformation (stem shape, ramification, etc.)

wood properties (basic density, colour, tension wood)

Each of these goals is associated to a number of selection criteria consisting of measurement protocols developed by the scientific community in order to accurately estimate the main features of the selected plants in relation to the goals to achieve. In this case, tests are arranged according to the cultivation model to be adopted for the clone evaluation: traditional poplar planting, short rotation forestry (SRF), medium rotation forestry (MRF).

In order to improve those features that are necessary for the development of
a specific final product, our research focuses on these key traits:

Conservation of woodchips:

Finding the best conservation method for woodchips is essential in the production and transformation process of plant material for energy purposes. The experiments conducted by the CRA research unit for agricultural engineering (CRA-ING) have sought to contribute to the identification of the dynamics that develop during the storage of SFR poplar woodchip. The best experimental results were achieved with uncovered heaps, deposited on outdoor waterproof sheets, using the splintered basal portion of the tree with a particle size greater than the one produced through commercial machines.

Heat value and ash content:

Evaluating the heat vaue of the wood produced with our plants is essential in developing a higher-performance product for combustion. Some of our patented clones have shown competitive levels of heat value and a low ash content after combustion.

Basal density:

Basal density, expressed in tons per cubic meter, indicates the ratio between the mass of dry wood and the volume of humid wood; it represents the most common quality indicator for wood fuel. This selection criteria, which is essential for the development of high-quality material for boards (low basal density) or for energy purposes (high basal density), is always evaluated in our clones to guide our choices during the selection process.

Wood chemistry:

In the production of bioenergy and for the industry of wood and paper, analyzing wood quality (composition and quantity of lignine, cellulose and emicellulose) is crucial to develop – through genetic improvement – the best product for its final use. In particular, evaluating the percentage of cellulose and emicellulose in wood is essential when selecting clones for the production of bioethanol; specifically, a scientific study carried out by various Romanian Research Centers shows that some of our clones prove to be interesting in terms of conversion efficiency and purity of the final product.

In situ productive performance: The purpose of our research is to create clones that are suitable for production in the climatic conditions of the destination. In this sense, it is essential to test the performance of the selected clones in situ, to verify their adaptability to the environments where they will be marketed, and through the different crop cycles.

Other species of interest:

Our experimental activity also extends to species different from poplar, that can be used in cultivations for energy purposes, such as:

Arundo donax
our selection activity involves the collection of spontaneous ecotypes and their subsequent identification, as well as the multiplication of the most productive genotypes extended to Southeast Asia, Northern Africa and Southern Europe.

Miscanthus spp.
Our selection activity involves the collection of spontaneous germoplasm in Asia, as well as the subsequent hybridisation and selection of the best genotypes.