Conifers are woody plants, the great majority being trees. They represent 650 species, some ranking as the largest, tallest, and longest living non-clonal terrestrial organisms on Earth. They are of immense ecological importance, dominating many terrestrial landscapes and representing the largest terrestrial carbon sink. They are evolutionary distinct from angiosperm trees on many accounts and with their extraordinary large genomes, they provide a different view of plant genome biology and evolution. They are also of great economic importance, as they are primarily used for timber and paper production worldwide. Domestication of some of these species was started about 60 years ago through traditional genetic improvement programs. It has resulted in advances in overall growth, wood quality, pest resistance and adaptation, but breeding still remains a slow process because of long generation intervals typical of most conifers and because most traits cannot be correctly evaluated at an early stage.

           During the past 20 years, more and more sophisticated genomics tools have been developed to describe the extreme plasticity and variability of these species at different levels of integration (from genes up to phenotypes) and are now being integrated into breeding to accelerate the domestication process by a more precise exploitation of genetic diversity. Application of genomic-based science is also playing an important role in understanding the evolution, patterns of nucleotide variation and the molecular basis of quantitative traits and adaptation. Altogether, this new knowledge is also expected to help delineate more efficient gene conservation strategies.

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