Molecular Genetics and Breeding of Forest Trees. Sandeep Kumar and Matthias Fladung (eds.). 2004. Food Products Press, an imprint of the Haworth Press, Inc., 10 Alice Street, Binghamton, NY 13904-1580. 436 pages. $59.95 softbound. <www.haworthpress.com/store/product.asp?sku=4900>. ISBN: 1-56022-959-4.
Molecular Genetics and Breeding of Forest Trees, edited by Sandeep Kumar and Matthias Fladung, is a valuable book on the genomics, molecular biology, and genetic engineering efforts of the vast groups of forest trees. I do recall the days whereby the thought of any research efforts dealing with the genetics and genetic improvement of forest trees used to be looked upon with exasperation, as these plant systems are so genetically complex and have such long generation cycles that this field moved at a very slow pace. Well, things have changed drastically in the past 10 to 15 years, and in particular in the last few years, whereby significant strides have been made in accumulating genomics resources, including expressed sequence tags (ESTs), mapping, and, more recently, sequencing of the whole genome. Efforts to unravel the genetics as well as expression of genes involved in myriad traits, particularly those associated with wood formation, flowering, and insect resistance as well as developing reliable gene transfer and regeneration systems for recovery of transgenic plants, have been highly successful and have all contributed to a renewed hope and interest in this important group of higher plants. Whether our interests in forest trees are based on their critical roles in ecological, environmental, or biomass productivity, it is important to observe this remarkable expansion of knowledge into the genetics and breeding of these groups of plants. Therefore, this book provides a valuable resource for some of the advances in genomics and genetic advances of forest trees, although the fast pace of these advances, in particular with the sequencing of Populus trichocarpa genome (which obviously follows the publication date of this book), will bring about the necessity for a revised edition of this current book.
The book consists of four parts according to the following: Part I—Forest Tree Functional Genomics—covering chapters 1 through 4; Part II—Molecular Biology of Wood Formation—covering chapters 5 through 8; Part III—Forest Tree Transgenesis—covering chapters 9 through 13; and Part IV—Genome Mapping in Forest Trees—covering chapters 14 through 17. Some of these chapters cover advances in resources, such as EST databases, molecular markers and mapping resources, or genetic engineering efforts; while others focus on advances in the biology and biosynthetic pathways of valuable traits such as wood formation, lignin metabolism, or cellulose biosynthesis.
It was interesting to read about the challenges as well as opportunities that forest trees provide to research efforts in this field. The amount of knowledge that has been generated from the model system Arabidopsis thaliana has been highly useful, and this information has allowed for research advances in various forest tree species as our knowledge of complex traits, such as cellulose biosynthesis, that are controlled by multiple gene families, necessitates that we go back and forth between arabidopsis (with its complete genome sequence). There are several examples in some of these chapters where this approach is used and has contributed to robust advances in our knowledge about various groups of genes, particularly those associated with wood formation, cellulose biosynthesis, and lignin. Those chapters dealing with in vitro approaches are rather short and to the point; whereas those dealing with developing transgenic lines expressing genes involved in insect resistance, flowering, and marker-free systems are very well written, as they are detailed and provide fundamental information. Chapters dealing with molecular markers and mapping projects cover efforts in various pine, Populus, and Acacia species. There is a thorough review of the molecular markers that have been identified, with emphasis on microsatellite markers as well as efforts to look into other marker systems as well.
Overall, I think this book is well balanced in offering the reader a good overview of advances in genomics, proteomics, transcriptomics (with emphasis on ectomycorrhizal symbiosis), mapping, and transgenics. I find the chapters dealing with tree biology especially useful as they truly focus on the most valuable traits of trees. Those chapters on genetic engineering also tie well into the functional genomics studies that can be undertaken in various forest species. There are several illustrations, photographs, and tables throughout the different chapters, and these are well referenced. The index section is rather short, but would allow the reader to find some critical pieces of information on specific groups of genes or plant systems. I have to say that this book is a very good resource for those who are involved in this field or for those who are new to this field. It is a valuable resource, but considering the recent surge of information in forest genomics and molecular genetics, it will require revision in a mere, few short years.