“Tree improvement research in India was started by Prof. H. G. Champion based on geographical variations during early 1930 and a provenance trial of Chir Pine was established at New Forest (FRI Campus) Dehradun. He reported inheritance of spiral characters of wood in Chir Pine and initiated work on genetic improvement of other commercially important forest tree species of India. During same period an all-India Teak provenance Trial was also established. Forest Genetics Section at FRI was started during 1959-60 under Botany Branch, Directorate of Biological Research. During 1961 Prof. J. D. Mathews (FAO) developed guidelines for tree improvement of important species like Tectona grandis, Bombax ceiba, Pinus spp. Dalbergia sissoo, Santalum album, Morus alba and Pterocarpus santalinus.

During 5th Five Year Plan Forest Genetics and Tree Improvement got impetus with two central sector schemes viz. “Indo-Danish project on Seed Procurement and Tree Improvement” and “Creation of Radio Isotope Laboratory”. The formation of Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) and, in 1988 reorganization of Forest Research Institute leads to creation of Division of Genetics and Tree Propagation. The research was prioritized to genetically improve Acacia nilotica, A. catechu, Albizia spp., Azadirachta indica, Bombax ceiba, Dalbergia sissoo, Eucalyptus spp., Prosopis cineraria, Pinus roxburghii, P. wallichiana, Robinia pseudoacacia and Tectona grandis. During 1994, World Bank funded projects (FREEP) on Planting Stock and Tree Improvement were carried out for some commercially important species viz. Dalbergia sissoo, Eucalyptus tereticornis, Pinus roxburghii and Populus deltoids in the states of U.P., Punjab and Haryana.

Intensive surveys were made throughout country for selection of superior trees and collection of area specific seed material for prioritized species and progeny trials, seed orchards and clonal multiplication gardens were established. The division developed promising hybrids, selected superior and disease resistant genotypes, established seed production area, seed orchards, gene banks, vegetative multiplication gardens of different species in Northern India. Division has dedicated its laboratory of tissue culture to develop propagation protocol for mass multiplication of important plant species.

The Eucalyptus breeding programme was initiated during 1960’s and is still continuing to improve its productivity.  A series of interspecific hybrids, popularly known as FRI 4, FRI 5 to FRI 15, were developed. Some of the hybrids have shown excellent vigour, better pulping quality and produce 3 to 5 folds volume of wood as compare to parents. One of these recombinants of eucalypts was released for commercial cultivation in 2011. Recently three new improved clones of Eucalyptus tereticornis have further been released for commercial cultivation in Northern India. Similarly, genetic improvement programme for Shisham was initiated during 1990’s and has been continuing till now.  Plus trees with desirable trait have been selected from the natural range of distribution and preserved in the gene/clonal bank. The selected plus trees were evaluated under multi location clonal trials for productivity, form and G x E. During 2012, a new clone (FRI-DS-D14) with higher productivity and resistance to die-back disease was released for commercial cultivation.  In recent times, private plantations of Melia dubia are becoming more common in the regions upto the altitude of 1500 m to meet the ever growing demands of raw material in paper/pulp and veneer industry and it emerges as an alternative to both Eucalyptus and Populus in the North-Western states of India. To ensure the availability of quality planting material for large scale cultivation, division has initiated genetic improvement work for Melia dubia under All India Coordinated Programme. Recently, ten high yielding varieties with an average productivity of 34.57 cubic meter per hectare per annum have been released after rigorous selection and evaluation for Northern Region.

The division has developed Molecular Biology Laboratory for research on DNA based markers and their applications in tree improvement and conservation genetics. The research on DNA based molecular marker has become a valuable tool to understand complex genetic structure of trees, estimation of genetic variability, germplasm characterization, analysis of mating system, deciphering inheritance pattern and marker assisted breeding. A series of germplasm has been characterized for Shisham, Pines, Deodar, Oaks, Bamboos etc. Considering the importance of Forest Genetic Resources as a sub-set of biodiversity, National CAMPA Advisory Council (NCAC) of Ministry of Environment and Forests & Climate Change, Govt. of India has granted a pilot project for Conservation and Development of Forest Genetic Resources of Uttrakhand state with focus on indigenous species. Some of the species have been prioritized for their detailed investigation viz. Quercus semicarpifoliaRhododendron arboreum, Texas baccata, Quercus semicarpifolia, Diploknema butyraceae, Betula utilis etc. for their long term conservation and management.

The division imparts training to various stakeholders like officials of the state forest departments, farmers, researchers and students of various universities and institutions on various aspects of planting stock improvement, clonal multiplication, application of molecular markers etc. The short-term trainings are also provided to M. Sc. students of different universities and educational institutions on genetics, biotechnology and tree improvement.

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