Huntsville (November 2, 2023) – Alabama Governor Kay Ivey awarded HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology $383,268 today through the Alabama Department of Economic & Community Affairs (ADECA). The purpose of this project is to provide those working in Alabama’s timber industry a low-cost genomic tool to identify and verify the type of tree planted and growing in stands throughout the state.
HudsonAlpha is working to incorporate genetic technology into the Alabama timber industry to provide quality control for companies growing and purchasing timber. Currently, the industry relies on trees planted 25 years ago, meaning planters won’t know with certainty that the trees have the qualities they desire until harvest. The TIMBER project (Turning Information into Meaningful Benefits and Economic Returns) will allow the $27 billion industry to determine the exact tree specifications much earlier in their lifetime by deploying and testing a HudsonAlpha-developed sequencing and analysis tool called Khufu.
“This project has the potential to enhance the industry’s ability to accurately verify species at a large scale,” said HudsonAlpha Faculty Investigator Josh Clevenger, PhD, the principal investigator for TIMBER. “It has the possibility to identify timber assets with key genetic traits, market superior products to buyers, and mitigate financial risk over the long time span required to harvest and produce forestry products.”
Researchers at HudsonAlpha will use Khufu to accurately identify and type trees in a tree stand. The project will test two pine species that are important to Alabama tree farmers and the lumber industry. Landowners, foresters, and manufacturers will be able to use genetics to reduce risk, invest wisely, and secure a competitive advantage over others who don’t apply genetic testing. The work will be conducted in Dothan and spearheaded by HudsonAlpha Wiregrass.
The goal of TIMBER is to show that genetic testing can be a biological surveillance tool in the timber industry. It could provide an extraordinary layer of information to transform decision-making in the timber supply chain, validating tree species and quality earlier in the tree life cycle. TIMBER will apply genetic testing to optimize pine seedlings for growth conditions and improve overall yield.
Working with HudsonAlpha Wiregrass will be an extensive group of industry partners, including SmartLam North America, Great Southern Wood Preserving (YellaWood) and Rex Lumber. The project would also include private landowners, forestry experts, and other advisors.
“The Alabama Forestry Commission is excited about HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology receiving this grant,” said State Forester Rick Oates of the Alabama Forestry Commission. “There are many possible benefits of an accurate genetic verification tool that can quickly and inexpensively provide information to landowners. We look forward to working with HudsonAlpha and all the partners to do all we can to support, enhance, and protect our forests while ensuring a healthy economy and environment.”
Alabama’s forestry sector accounts for more than $27 billion a year and more than 120,000 jobs, according to the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. “We have a keen interest in supporting forestry-related research and technology development to ensure our forests remain healthy and our industry competitive,” said Chris Isaacson, President and CEO of the Alabama Forestry Association. Alabama has over 23 million acres of timberland, the third largest commercial forestland base in the lower 48 states, and adds around two percent of tree volume year-over-year. “We look forward to working with HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology on this grant to leverage their expertise in genetics and genomics to benefit one of Alabama’s most important industries.”
State leaders are excited about the trajectory of the project and the implications it has on the region and the state of Alabama.
“The grants through the Alabama Research and Development Enhancement Fund (ARDEF) were intended to support research that would have an impact on Alabama’s economy and people. With today’s award, HudsonAlpha will work with many in the timber industry to make our state more competitive and stronger,” said state Sen. Arthur Orr, Chair of the Senate Ways and Means, Education Committee and an author of the legislation that created the ARDEF. “I’m pleased to see our work in the legislature is making a positive difference for people throughout the state.”
“Forestry and timber is big business in the Wiregrass and all of Alabama, and I am thrilled to see state resources being allocated to such an important industry,” state Sen. Donnie Chesteen said. “HudsonAlpha’s work to use genetics to help landowners, timber companies, and lumber purchasers certify and verify their product will save resources and time. I look forward to reviewing their work and seeing the positive impact this project will have.”
To increase the impact of this project, HudsonAlpha Wiregrass is providing a dollar-for-dollar match to the state funds.“Timber continues to be a strong economic engine for the state of Alabama and HudsonAlpha is eager to work to meet the challenges facing those in this industry. We appreciate Governor Ivey and those at ADECA for supporting this collaborative effort bringing HudsonAlpha’s expertise in plant genomics together with landowners and industry experts.,” said Carter Wells, HudsonAlpha Vice President for Economic Development.”
HudsonAlpha would like to thank all of those who supported this grant including: Rex Lumber, LLC; SmartLam North America, Great Southern Wood Preserving, Inc.; the Alabama Forestry Commission and the Alabama Forestry Association; and other community, business, and elected leaders.Read more about the project from ADECA here.
HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving life around the globe through discovery, education, and economic development in the genomic sciences. HudsonAlpha’s mission is to develop and apply scientific advances to health, agriculture, education and commercialization. The campus, located in Huntsville, includes nearly 50 biotech companies and consists of 152 acres located within Cummings Research Park, the second-largest research park in the nation. To learn more about HudsonAlpha, visit hudsonalpha.org.