Tea tree oil industry invests in genetic gains


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Tea tree plantation

Early gains from the Australian tea tree oil industry’s research and development investment are setting the industry up for genetic improvements resulting in better international market access.

The AgriFutures Tea Tree Oil Program, which manages the tea tree oil R&D levy, recently invested in a new project with Southern Cross University to integrate a breeding population management system (BMS) with its well established and internationally regarded breeding and clones program.

Gae Plunkett, AgriFutures Australia Manager, Research for the Tea Tree Oil Program said the investment allowed researchers to use an internationally recognised BMS to fast track genetic gains.

“By making breeding management more efficient, the BMS helped escalate efforts to identify breeding stock with better yields and lower methyl eugenol,” Ms Plunkett said.

“These traits are important for profitability and market access, particularly into international markets.”

Dr Merv Shepherd, Southern Cross University Plant Science Senior Research Fellow said the investment was important for realising gains from the breeding program for growers.

“A BMS allows us to develop and deliver transparent, reproducible and reusable analytical pipelines,” Dr Shepherd said.

“This effectively means we can work more quickly aided by technology that helps us in monitoring the progress of breeding, modelling of alternative strategies, and provides information for breeding and deployment decisions.”

Dr Shepherd said benefits included realising the anticipated genetic gains from an advanced generation breeding strategy, increased efficiency in the operation of the breeding program, and security and future proofing of breeding information.


Ms Plunkett said the project showed how effective levies could be in creating gains for industry.

“Fast tracking genetic gains for the Tea Tree Oil industry helps growers stay ahead of international competitors,” said Ms Plunkett.

“For instance, by revisiting and improving the breeding value estimates for a legacy of 15,000 trees, grown and tested over the past 25 years of the breeding program, a set of 47 prospective seed orchard parents were identified that were predicted to increase the profit from plantations around two-fold more than the current best.”

“Poorer yielding trees can also be more reliably identified and culled, bringing up the quality of seed produced in current production orchards.”

Ms Plunket said the project also set the industry up for further gains from new understanding of the genetic control of oil and biomass traits, and foundation germplasm resources.

“It allows researchers to explore new strategies for breeding tea tree into the future and has revealed that some promising natural provenances of tea tree may be still underutilised for breeding.”

“This type of knowledge is vital for future research gains which will help the industry evolve and develop.”

For more information on AgriFutures Australia’s Tea Tree Oil investments, visit www.agrifutures.com.au/rural-industries/tea-tree-oil/

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