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Wednesday, 03 February 2010 00:58

Genetically modified forests coming to U.S.

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Two paper manufacturing companies are hoping to introduce genetically modified eucalyptus trees into the southeastern parts of the United States. The trees can produce more wood per acre, but the question is: Can humans control them?



Two large paper manufacturing companies in the United States'”International Paper and Mead Westvaco'”are working to replace native pine trees in the southeastern region of the United States with genetically engineered eucalyptus trees.

The companies are eager to replace the native pine forests with these genetically modified (GM) eucalyptus trees because they produce more wood in less area than the native trees.

According to the January 29, 2010 Scientific American article 'Genetically Modified Forest Planned for U.S. Southeast,' this practice of using genetically modified (GM) trees is new to the United States, although not to other part of the world, such as Brazil.

The eucalyptus tree, a native Australian plant, is one of the leading trees used in the timber industry within the subtropical and tropical regions of the world.

The Eucalyptus tree is a diverse genus of flowering trees and shrubs in the myrtle family Myrtaceae. There are more than seven hundred species of Eucalyptus, with most of them native to Australia and a few others to New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Species of Eucalyptus are also cultivated throughout the tropics and subtropics including Africa, the Americas, China, Europe, the Indian subcontinent, the Mediterranean Basin, and the Middle East.

Page two continues with quotes from the Scientific American article, which discusses the plan from both sides of the story.



The biotechnology expertise behind this venture is provided by the U.S. company ArborGen LLC.

The biotech company uses a fertility control technology whose goal is to prevent the GM trees from being invasive by restricting the spread of pollen and seeds'”and, thus, its ability to reproduce.

However, according to the earlier-mentioned Scientific American article, the gene splice used by ArborGen is 'controversial.'

The article states, 'Yet many questions remain about the effectiveness of the fertility system used by ArborGen, which, according to leading scientists, has never been rigorously studied in multiyear trials to prove that it can effectively control plants' spread. More research must be conducted before such systems are relied upon to restrict pollen and seed spread, they say.'

On the plus side, the bio-engineered eucalyptus trees produce more wood on fewer acres of land. The GM trees grow to about 17 (55 feet) in height within a matter of twenty-seven (27) months and have a full canopy of leaves within a few years.

On the negative side, ArborGen cannot guarantee that these GM trees will not become invasive.

Page three concludes with comments from Dr. Steve Strauss, a tree geneticist from Oregon State University.



U.S. tree geneticist Steven H. Strauss, a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University (Corvallis), was quoted in the Scientific American article.

Dr. Strauss says that all species try to adapt and survive and artificial attempts to control fertility may not always work.

Strauss states, "When you talk about trees, storms happen, wind blows. The containment is not absolute. There is the chance of some spread. Is it likely to become an invasive weed? Seems unlikely to me."

He adds, 'There does not seem to have been any serious field studies, in any crop, sufficient to estimate the operational effectiveness of containment genes.... Until many such studies are published, it would be unwise to assume that genes can be fully and safely contained in the near future."

Please read the Scientific American article 'Genetically Modified Forest Planned for U.S. Southeast,' mentioned earlier, in more detail to learn more about genetically modified eucalyptus trees being introduced into the southeastern parts of the United States.

The January 29, 2010 New York Times article 'USDA Weighs Plan to Bring GM Eucalyptus to Southeast Pinelands' also provides additional information on the subject.

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