Can Science Produce a Longer Lasting Christmas Tree?

Caroline Petrow-Cohen

Has Science Found a Way to Produce a Longer Lasting Christmas Tree?

The holiday season is upon us, and for many families, that means it is also time to select a Christmas tree. And if you’re like more than 80 percent of Americans who celebrate Christmas, you’ll be taking a trip to the store and not an actual tree farm. Fake trees have more than doubled in popularity in the last 25 years, a tree farmer’s nightmare. Not only will the purchase of a single fake tree for a family mean one less tree sold at the farm this year, it could mean decades of real trees will not find a home in coming years.

Luckily, plant scientists from Dalhousie University working in the world’s only Christmas Tree Research Center in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia have developed a new type of tree. This balsam fir is a senescence modulated abscission regulated technology tree, nicknamed the SMART tree. To be put in understandable terms, SMART trees are the ideal christmas tree; perfect shape, delicious aroma, vibrant blue-green color, and exceptional needle retention. SMART trees eliminate all the imperfections of the balsam fir, a Nova Scotia specialty that accounts for a significant portion of the 1.7 million trees exported from Canada each year, and of so many other common tree species that drive consumers towards purchasing a fake one.

Consumers will be happy to know that SMART trees are not a product of genetic engineering; however, researchers did utilize the latest genomic science to produce it. Researchers first had to test thousands of balsam firs for the ideal traits that SMART trees possess. Then, using a process called transcriptomics analysis to pinpoint the genes that carry the desired traits, scientists employ traditional hybridization breeding techniques to produce a tree that will satisfy consumers, and clone it. The cloning process is not as mysterious or shady as it sounds. It is actually similiar to the common procedure that gardeners use on many domestic plants that probably exist in your yard today, such as a rosemary bush. The most significant trait achieved through this process that sets SMART trees apart from other balsam firs is needle retention. Multiple factors account for how long a tree will hold its needles post-harvest, and therefore this trait was the hardest to attain. But scientists did it; SMART trees hold needles for three months or longer, as opposed to the six to seven weeks that regular balsam firs hold their needles for.

Canadian farmers are hopeful to be putting SMART trees up for sale soon, with growers in Nova Scotia planting the first trees this year and looking for them mature and go on the market in at least five years. In the meantime, consider this interesting technique that came as an unexpected discovery during research on the SMART tree. Researchers found that LED lights, especially red and white ones, mimic photosynthesis and allow for longer needle retention in both SMART trees and regular ones. So, while you are waiting for your very own SMART tree to grow, go to the store and buy some eco-friendly LED lights to throw on your christmas tree this holiday season.

Jack Baulig ’19

Sources:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/can-science-produce-longer-lasting-christmas-tree-180961548/

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