ainhoa foto article

Photo: Sonali Ranade

Scots pine is one of the most commercially used tree species in Sweden. To be able to breed lines with improved growth, survival and properties is of great interest for tree breeders and the forest industry. Unfortunately, the tree breeding cycle of Scots pine lasts between 20 to 30 years and that causes that the evaluation of trees in breeding trials requires several years. In her PhD project Ainhoa Calleja-Rodriguez successfully evaluated new statistical methodologies that can aid to reduce the breeding cycle in the future and to improve the accuracy of the genetic parameters on growth, adaptive traits and wood quality traits of Scots pine. She successfully defended her PhD on Wednesday, 29 may at SLU Umeå.

In her study Ainhoa Calleja Rodríguez evaluated different families of Scots pine in several locations all over Sweden. Geographical variation was important as the environment has big impact on the behavior of the trees and with a new statistical method, called factor analysis, she was able to evaluate more characters simultaneously. Another new method called genomic selection was applied for the first time on Scots pine. Ainhoa showed that it may be possible to evaluate trees already at the seedling stage but also gives more accurate estimations of genetic variation of growth and wood quality traits then traditional methods.

Ainhoa was a student of the UPSC industrial graduate research school of forest genetics, biotechnology and breeding. Therefore, she was doing her PhD project not just as student at the department of forest genetics and plant physiology at SLU but also partly at the Swedish forest research institute Skogforsk, which has one main working focus on tree breeding.

Why did you choose your project?
I felt in love with tree improvement through a previous job experience as research technician and also from my master thesis in Spain, so when a colleague in Spain sent me the announce of this position in Sweden, I just did not doubt a second to send my application.

Did the fact that this PhD program you were in was located both in industry and academia influence the decision of starting on it?
Yes, it did, specially the industry part was essential for me to decide about this position. The fact that 20% of my time could be expend as internship at the host company (Skogforsk in my case), and be in direct contact with the operational breeding program and with the tree breeders, it was what made me decide for this PhD position.

What was most fascinating during your PhD?
The most fascinating was the opportunity of being Industrial PhD Student at the Second Research School of Forest Genetics, Biotechnology and Breeding, because it gave us the opportunity to attend PhD courses with the top professors in quantitative genetics and breeding, as well as to have a “field trip” to visit the most advanced breeding programs in USA and Brazil. Also, performing my internship within Skogforsk was also fascinating, especially because at the end one of the projects became part of the thesis and was key to improve my knowledge of quantitative genetics, linear mixed models and ASReml (the most common software used in plant and animal breeding).

What was the most disappointing experience you had during your PhD?
It was really hard to get good quality marker data for Scots pine. First time we tried, it took more than a year and half to get some data and finally their quality was not enough to use them, so the part of genomic prediction of my thesis was delayed. Fortunately when we tried the second time it did not take that long and we finally could use them.

What are your plans for the future?
Last month I had an interview and got a new job at Skogforsk as researcher, so I am finally going to work with the scientists there in the operational breeding program

About the defence:
The public defence took place on Wednesday, 29th of May in P-O Bäckströms sal at SLU Umeå. The faculty opponent was Heidi Dungey, Senior scientist and Science Leader of Forest Genetics, Scion (New Zealand Forest Research Institution) and her supervisor was Harry Wu.

Title of the thesis: Quantitative Genetics and Genomic Selection of Scots pine
Link to the thesis:

For more information, please contact:
Ainhoa Calleja-Rodriguez
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