Unraveling the mystery of figured wood in koa hardwood
Koa wood is highly valued around the world for its uniqueness and beauty. Koa woodcraft and trade is the primary income source for many Native Hawaiians. Improvements in wood quality would financially benefit those dependent upon the tourist trade for income. A greater understanding of the genetic basis for figured wood in koa would enable identification of the most valuable standing timber resources prior to harvest thus, making thinning and marketing of the wood a more strategic process. Scientists have recently begun using genetic sequencing technologies to analyze koa wood samples with varied degrees of figure and have identified a number of genes differentially expressed between nonfigured and figured wood. Gene expression data has shown variability in lignin biosynthesis and other biosynthetic pathway genes. Genes identified in this study are hypothesized to play significant roles in figure initiation and development, providing a starting point for future research. Work that the scientists do now to preserve this species supports Native Hawaiian culture and provides clues to solving the mystery of figured wood formation.