Though, Indian Forestry is more than hundred year old but Indian forest genetics is only in its forties. Tree improvement work in India was started by Prof. Champion who realized the importance of geographical variations and application of the knowledge of forest genetics during 1930. He established a provenance trial of chir pine at New Forest, Dehradun and found that spiral gains in chir pine are inherited. Laurie during the same period established an all-India Teak provenance trial, which remained the most important one in Asia. Isolated efforts were made for improving forest trees by selection and breeding, but what has been lacking were a systematic co-ordination and a good action programme. Realizing the importance of this subject Forest Research Institute, Dehradun opened a Forest Genetics section during 1959-60 attached to Botany Branch under the then Directorate of Biological Research at this institute. In the year 1961 Prof. J.D.Mathews an expert from F.A.O. visited India to give guidelines on the proposed tree improvement work. He suggested initially to work on some priority species viz. Tectona grandis, Bombax ceiba, Pinus spp. Dalbergia sissoo, Santalum album, Morus alba and Pterocarpus santalinus.
On the recommendation of the 2nd expert committee on Forest Research Institute, Genetics Section was elevated to the status of a branch 1969-70. During Vth plan period Forest Genetics and Tree Improvement got another boost when two central sector schemes were initiated. The first one in collaboration with DANIDA as “ Indo-Danish on Seed Procurement and Tree Improvement” under which tree improvement was carried out on Pinus roxburghii, P.wallichiana, Cedrus deodara, Dalbergia sissoo, D.latifolia, Albizia lebbek, Tectona grandis, Bombax ceiba, Gmelina arborea etc. The second was “Creation of Radio Isotope Laboratory Facilities” to work on physical and chemical mutagenesis of forestry species, calculate the LD-50 dose and screen out variants for future tree breeding work.
Two PL. 480 projects viz. “Techniques for inducing mutations and polyploidy in some hardwood and conifer species of importance in forestry (Project No. A7-F5-35) and other on “studies on induced poyploidy and mutagenesis in some hardwood tree species ( Project NO. A7-F5-&3) were successfully completed in 1970 and 1981 respectively. The outcome of these two projects was submitted to the concerned authorities. The findings were appreciated by U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. The result of these studies indicate that mutation breeding and polyploidy breeding could be useful adjunct to conventional breeding methods in the species studied and on the related species.
Formation of Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education and thereafter reorganization of Forest Research Institute lead to the creation of Division of Genetics and Tree Propagation, during 1988. This division was formed by merging Forest Genetics Branch, Indo-Danish Project on Seed Procurement and Tree Improvement Centre, Dehradun and Radio-Isotope laboratory. The research work was divided into six projects for the improvement of some selected species viz. 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.
Consequently during 1994 World Bank funded project (FREEP), two projects namely Planting Stock Improvement and Tree Improvement were started taking commercially important species viz. Dalbergia sissoo, Eucalyptus tereticornis, Pinus roxburghii and Populus deltoids in close collaboration with the states of U.P., Punjab and Haryana.
In past 45 year of existence of this branch/division, significant milestones in the history of the forest genetics were achieved. Initially the major thrust was on genetic improvement of indigenous tree speices through collection and evaluation of the available germplasm in the country. Improvement through hybridization, induced mutation and polyploidy of multipurpose tree species like Eucalyptus, Populus, Siris and Bamboos were other areas of research in which significant progress was made. To improve the quality of trees, intensive surveys were made throughout the country for selection of superior trees and collection of area specific seed material. This was intended to establish progeny trials to know the genetic worth of the selected superior trees, establish their orchards and clonal gardens for the production of quality seeds and vegetative material for raising improved plantations. In the process of genetic improvement, the division has produced promising hybrids, selected superior trees, established seed orchards and vegetative multiplication gardens and breeding populations of different species like Teak, Chir pine, Semul, Eucalyptus, Sandal, Red sander, Babul, Poplars, Neem, Rose wood and Bamboos etc. across the country. The division has also developed propagation techniques for those species for mass multiplication of improved trees. The division also successfully introduced germplasm of poplars, tropical pines, eucalyptus and Paulonia in different parts of India. Some of the species and their varieties are grown on commercial scale and are playing a vital role in economy of the country.
The genetic improvement for higher productivity of Eucalyptus through breeding approaches was initiated during 60’s and has been continuing with strength till now. A series of F1 hybrids, popularly known as FRI 4, FRI 5 to FRI 15, were developed at FRI by using different species combinations. Some of the hybrids have shown pronounced and sustained degree of superiority in growth parameters. These F1 hybrids have potential to produce 3 to 5 folds volume of wood than the parent species. Wood properties of some of the hybrids possess better pulping quality. Some of the hybrids have been clonally multiplied through tissue culture and deployed in the field under different eco-climatic conditions.
FRI is equipped with DNA fingerprinting and radio-isotope facilities. DNA finger printing have important immediate application in supportive research for advanced tree breeding programmes and provide ample scope in improving the forest productivity by shortening the process of long breeding and selection programmes. DNA fingerprinting is being carried out to understand the complex genetic structure of trees with particular reference to delineation of provenances and study of genetic variability, molecular characterization of germplasm, analysis of mating system, inheritance pattern and establishment of genotype and species specific markers. Presently molecular characterization of Himalayan pines, Eucalyptus and Shisham germplasm is under progress. DNA markers are also being used as a tool for certifying the identity of clones, species, hybrids and seed lots involving limited number of parents
At this division applied and basic research in the filed of genetics, clonal forestry and molecular biology is being carried out to meet the requirement of the stakeholders particularly state forest departments, industries and farmers. Research projects supported from different funding agencies like CSIR, national medicinal plant board, department of biotechnology, Punjab forest department etc. are being executed to achieve the specific objectives of the stake holders. The division imparts training to officials of the state forest departments of various levels on field application of various techniques of planting stock improvement, forest genetics and clonal propagation. The short-term trainings are provided to M. Sc. students of different universities and educational institutions on tree improvement and biotechnology. Also the division provides consultancy services to the state forest departments, industries and other organizations.