• Researchers identify biomarkers to create "tailored" forests resistant to the climatic change

    February 09, 2016

    Research commissioned by the University and the Serida defines new biological markers related with the adaptation of trees to different areas

    Growth chamber of Plant Physiology

    ¿Can we identify the origin of a tree analyzing its metabolites? ¿Can we define the capacity of a forest species to adapt to environmental variations generated by the climate change? Researchers of the University of Oviedo and the Serida think we can. A joint work carried out by both institutions has identified new biomarkers which may be used in management and forestry improvement programs to achieve a greater sustainability of forests in the current framework of global warming.

    The subject matter of this research relies on metabolites, the group of molecules that make up the metabolism of living creatures. Scientists took the collection of Pinus pinaster of the forestry program of the Serida as the starting point of their study. The collection is made up of pines coming from different parts of the world like France, Spain or Morocco. The study of the metabolites taken from the specimens grown in Asturias has shown some surprising results.

    Scientists studied the natural variation of the metabolomics of ‘Pinus pinaster' taking common species selected from common gardens in Spain, Morocco and France.

    Luis Valledor, researcher of the Department of Organisms and Systems Biology of the University, reveals that they expected to find the same metabolites regardless of the origin of the trees because these molecules are very sensitive to environmental changes. "We waited for 5 years to wipe their memory of origin–he states–. As they were grown in the same area, we thought we would find the same metabolites", he explains. However, experts found out that provenances kept the genetic information related to metabolites, that is, kind of a genetic trace.

    The research, published in the prestigious journal Molecular Ecology, is entitled Study of the natural variation of the metabolomics of Pinus pinaster. Is it possible to identify the origin of a pine tree from its metabolites? The results have practical consequences. Luis Valledor highlights that, thanks to the study of this group of molecules, experts can now explain the higher of lower level of tolerance to stressful situations like temperature, ultraviolet light or lack of light. Thus, tailored forests could become a reality, prior identification of the metabolites, selecting trees with capacity to adapt to different geo-climatic conditions.

    Scientists chose Pinus pinaster due to its importance in both, the wood and paper industry and also in reforestation policies. This is a native species very common in Asturias and in Spain. Luis Valledor, expert in Plant Physiology, provides some figures. Pinus pinaster covers nowadays a surface of 1,8 million hectares. After Eucalyptus, it is the most useful species for wood industries, since it means almost the 26% of all the wood produced in Spain. The authors of this study believe that the results obtained with this species may be transferred to other pine species like Pinus sylvestris or P. radiata, even though this methodology could actually be applied to any plant species.

    This work has been possible thanks to the collaboration of the different teams coming from the University of Oviedo, The Regional Service for Food and Agriculture Research and Development (Serida), the University of Vienna and the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

    Meijón M, Feito I, Oravec M, De la Torre C, Weckwerth W, Majada J, Valledor L. 2016. Exploring natural variation of Pinus pinaster Aiton using metabolomics: Is it possible to identify the region of origin of a pine from its metabolites? Molecular Ecology, e-print ahead of publication.

    Portadas de la ciencia. Actividad Financiada parcialmente por la Fundación Española para la Ciencia y la Tecnología (FECYT) – Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad.