Articles — 24 December 2014

Ever spent hours looking for that perfect Christmas tree? Despite the careful choosing, sometimes our tree ends up drying up and losing its needles too early, begging the question of whether it was worth it to get a tree in the first place. Yet the perfect tree, one that grows faster and holds on to its needles, may be just around the corner.

Researcher and professor John Frampton has spent years perfecting the Fraser fir, the most popular kind of Christmas tree. Frampton is an expert on Fraser firs and is working on creating trees that are immune to root fungus, grow faster, and hold on to their needles longer. Because of his work, future Christmas trees will be hybrids and will hopefully be easier to grow.

Currently, Fraser firs take as long as 10 years to grow before they are cut. The trees are also susceptible to root fungus, which makes their roots rot and has the potential of decimating whole fields. For now, to combat this issue, tree growers can graft the branches of Fraser firs onto the roots of another type of fir, the Momi fir, which is more resistant to the fungus. This process creates a tree that looks like the Fraser fir but has the roots of the Momi fir and is therefore immune to the fungus. This technique, however, is expensive and time-consuming.

Instead of grafting, Frampton has been working on breeding Fraser firs that are naturally resistant to root rot. He has found that the activation of certain genes in the seeds of fir trees can control resistance to the fungus. Yet before he can genetically engineer Christmas trees, Frampton and his team must sequence the DNA of the Fraser fir in order to determine which genes code for the traits they are looking for. Once they do that, they can start working towards the creation of the perfect Christmas tree, one that is not only immune to the fungus, but is also faster to grow and retains its needles longer.


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Noa Yaakoba-Zohar

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