Are We Ready for Genetically Modified … Trees?

That’s right, it’s more than just corn and soybeans. Scientists are now considering the genetic modification of trees. What need is there to modify a tree, you ask? Well, in an effort to grow more “sustainable” paper-yielding crops, scientists have figured out how to genetically engineer trees that require less chemicals, energy, and processing to produce pulp — as opposed to the current wasteful system. Attempts to alter trees in the past have been unsuccessful, leading to stunted growth or loss of strength. However, these modified trees (poplar, in this case) seem to be successful in retaining their growth-potential and integrity against wind and infestation, but are able to break down more easily at a temperature of 100 C for processing. Read more about the process here. On the one hand, the process would make paper manufacturing less petroleum and chemical dependent, but at what cost?

It is obvious that in this age of the Internet, we are using increasingly less paper. One could argue that that alone is more environmentally-friendly than creating GM trees. But even if paper is on the out, scientists believe the process could be useful with other plants in the creation of biofuels, for which there is a strong demand and open market.

Perhaps some good could come of this technology, but it is a dangerous game. The greatest concern is the possibility of contamination with our native forests. Conceptually, it would be quite easy, and could endanger biodiversity. However, scientists argue that cross-contamination with native stands of trees is entirely avoidable — through tactics like harvesting before maturity, planting GM trees far away from natives so that cross-pollination is “impossible,” and modifying genes so that the GM trees are sterile. Perhaps these tactics would be useful in a large greenhouse/warehouse. Unfortunately, the Great Outdoors is not a controlled scenario, and anything could happen. What do you think? Do these ideas sound infallible, or could Murphy’s law creep in through the cracks? Do we really have any business altering the genes of living, evolving organisms with whom we coinhabit the Earth?

In the meantime, if we could all cancel our junk mail, we’d be two steps ahead.

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162 comments

Carrie-Anne Brown
Carrie-Anne Brownabout a year ago

thanks for sharing :)

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson2 years ago

I'm not ready for GM in anything. Roll the dice and take our chances.

Label the GM foods. Be fair!

Past Member
Past Member 2 years ago

I agree leave mother nature alone next we will have trees that grow hair... Being a wild-bird rehabilitator and naturalist I have seen what GMO's can do, first hand being in the field and seeing how the environment and how wild-life has suffered, I.E. our bees, birds to name a few... When your a guardian, a rehabilitator of wild-life like I am you can see it the deadly effects first hand and the impact it has it alarms you and the BIG PICTURE is nor pretty we will all suffer!

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H.2 years ago

Nature has been supporting people for eons so it must be doing something right. Why is it not good enough now to the point everything we eat must me full of chemicals. More and more chemical related health issues will pop up. Leave nature be.

Tanya W.
Tanya W.2 years ago

Mother Nature got it right! Why are we trying to stuff it up? Coz we can!

Carole R.
Carole R.2 years ago

We humans are so arrogant that we think we need to improve nature. I don't think that is possible.

Ashley heffner
Ashley heffner2 years ago

Stop messing with nature. >.>

Ashley heffner
Ashley heffner2 years ago

Nooo!

Nimue P.

Don't muck with nature.

Mary T.
Mary T.2 years ago

thanks for sharing but do we really need GMO trees