“We are under very significant pressure from countries in the world where there’s perhaps less regulation, where there’s higher photosynthetic capacity and the trees grow more,” he said. “So we have to have the ability to breed more rapidly.”

The finding came when the researchers, who are members of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, decided to bypass uncovering every bit of genetic code behind pine tree traits. Instead they used the parts of the genetic code they already knew to develop a trait prediction model.

The model allows the researchers to predict with great accuracy traits that will appear in a tree without having to first grow it in a field test, which can take about eight years.

Kirst said a large part of the technique’s value is in breeding trees that perform well in the face of climate change, including conditions such as higher temperatures and increased drought.

“Breeders want to be in a position where the genetic material that they use is adaptable to a broad range of conditions,” he said.

Gary Peter, a professor in UF’s school of forest resources and conservation and another study author, said the new method will also enable faster development of trees that can be used for bioenergy, or energy produced from renewable resources.

“If we can modify traits much faster, we can create more specialized trees that can be grown for different products than just pulp and paper and solid wood,” Peter said. “We can tailor them for energy conversion.”

The new technique will also allow for the speedier development of trees with improved traits such as better wood quality and disease and pest resistance.

The study’s authors also include lead author Márcio Resende Jr., a doctoral student in UF’s genetics and genomics program; Patricio Munoz, a doctoral student in UF’s plant molecular and cellular biology program; Juan Acosta, a doctoral student in UF’s school of forest resources and conservation; John Davis, a professor and associate director of UF’s school of forest resources and conservation; Dario Grattapaglia, a genetics and biotechnology resources researcher with Embrapa in Brazil; and Marcos Resende, with the department of forest engineering at the Universidade Federal de Viçosa in Brazil.

The study is available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-8137.2011.03895.x/full.