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How Un-Poplar Will GMO Trees Prove to Be?

Green Lifestyle  (tags: conservation, ecosystems, environment, genetic engineering, GMOs, GMO trees, health, humans, protection, Sustainabililty, technology, world )

- 1569 days ago -
Genetically engineered poplar trees seem to grow faster and be more resistant to pests. But will they damage forest ecosystems and will anyone check?

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Kathy B (106)
Friday January 3, 2014, 5:38 pm
Between 1998 and 2001 in a large-scale trial of 402 trees in Oregon State University (OSU), nine GM “insertion events” placed the cry3Aa gene (toxin) into hybrid poplar trees.

Since then they have been grown in a “clone bank” at OSU.

Steven Strauss, professor of forest biotechnology in the OSU College of Forestry, is excited about the economic potential of these trees.

“Our field experiments and continued research showed results that exceeded our expectations. And it is likely that we have underestimated the value these trees could have in improved growth and production.”

Poplars are used in arboriculture for their fast growth and usefulness in the paper and pulp industry.

Moth killer trees

But the cry3Aa gene in these GM trees expresses a toxin that is not only fatal to the species of moth that damage poplars; it is also toxic to all moth species.

As a large number of moth species are heavily dependent upon poplar trees, this toxic gene insertion has the potential to be very damaging to forest diversity and food web.

The researchers are unfazed by this and declare they are confident that the toxin will be expressed constantly for the full 14 year average life span of the trees which, of course, maximises the potential damage to “non-target species.”

Resistance expected

The researchers also seem to ignore the fact that in arable crops where there has been a persistent use of the Bt (moth specific) toxins, pest resistance has built up very quickly, and farmers are now having to increase chemical spraying to counteract this problem.

Gene flow isn’t an issue either

Prof. Strauss believes that U.S. regulatory agencies will require extensive studies of gene flow and their effects on forest ecosystems. These, he says, are difficult to carry out.

But, researchers argue, for commercial reasons GM poplars would be also engineered to be sterile and would be unlikely to spread their engineered genes to other trees.

Development of male sterile trees has been demonstrated in the field. Female sterility has not yet been done but should be feasible say researchers.

The root of the problem

Seeds and pollen are not the only gene flow issue with poplars though.

Almost all poplars take root readily from cuttings or where broken branches lie on the ground.

It is this form of spreading, sterile or not, that could cause the greatest problems for farmers and ecosystems alike.

Encouraging monocultures

Hybrid poplar trees are usually grown in dense rows on flat land almost like a food crop. They are essentially fourteen year monocultures and are not rich in biodiversity.

It is this that makes them especially vulnerable to insect epidemics.

This is another example of where researchers focus on a technological input fix rather than developing more sustainable agro-ecological alternatives.

Environmental protection?

Some genetically engineered hybrid poplar trees are already being used commercially in China and it remains to be seen how “light” the U.S. authorities will be in regulating their development.

There is every chance that the EPA will waive these trees through a lax regulatory system as they have done with a host of GMO arable crops.

‘Difficult to carry out’ environmental assessments could easily become; ‘may hinder commercial gain’.

Health protection?

However Poplars are not just used for biomass and pulp.

The wood is commonly used as the casing for French Camembert cheese and often used to make chopsticks.

It will be interesting to see if these GM trees undergo testing for suitability for being in contact with foodstuffs.

Another reason for GM trees to be ‘un-poplar”.

Jennifer B (85)
Friday January 3, 2014, 8:19 pm

Terry King (113)
Saturday January 4, 2014, 7:51 am
We have to stop introducing GMO organisms to the wild!

Robert O (12)
Saturday January 4, 2014, 8:24 am
Thanks Kathy.

Dawn M (142)
Saturday January 4, 2014, 8:56 am
Thanks, noted.

Sheila D (194)
Saturday January 4, 2014, 9:08 am
Wonder what all of these GMO seeds will do to the Earth in twenty years...Wasn't that an old Sci-Fi movie?

Kathleen R (138)
Saturday January 4, 2014, 1:05 pm
Noted & read.

Birgit W (160)
Saturday January 4, 2014, 2:23 pm
Shocking. What else?

Kamia T (89)
Saturday January 4, 2014, 3:18 pm
More importantly, has anyone tried to figure out what organisms live on the good old-fashioned poplar, and what these new GMO trees will be doing to their lifecycles? We're so arrogant as to think that because we can pinpoint one cause and effect relationship, that we've covered them all. Not! Ever watched dominoes tumble?

Rose Becke (141)
Saturday January 4, 2014, 3:39 pm

Karen L. Lew (1)
Saturday January 4, 2014, 5:02 pm
To whom can we send petitions or letters to try and stop the proliferation of this newest GMO horror?

Debra T (17)
Saturday January 4, 2014, 6:04 pm
Noted! Would never buy or plant one of these trees!

Marie W (67)
Saturday January 4, 2014, 8:18 pm
NO GMO trees. Will destroy ecosystem, STOP!

Christina G (11)
Saturday January 4, 2014, 9:41 pm
what about our poor bees - already in trouble - what is wrong with these guys who call themselves scientists!

Tanya Selth (0)
Saturday January 4, 2014, 10:28 pm
"It will be interesting to see if these GM trees undergo testing for suitability for being in contact with foodstuffs. "

Maybe one or even two toxin containing GM things our bodies may be okay with, but what happens when we start having combos of these, eg most of our foods become GM and we have a soup of toxin gene things going into our foods.

Gene knowledge is still in its infancy (much of that so called "junk DNA" now is known that it may be doing something but they dont know what).. they could be altering our genes or doing all kinds of things. Something which would not be reversable.

Kathy B (106)
Saturday January 4, 2014, 10:34 pm
Very good point Tanya, I always hear the term 'safe levels', they never seem to think that all of those safe levels combined might not be very safe.

reft h (66)
Sunday January 5, 2014, 1:05 am

Keith H (0)
Sunday January 5, 2014, 1:55 am
GMO's are a nightmare

Debra Van Way (12)
Sunday January 5, 2014, 8:16 am
Wouldn't it be great to have a magic wand to make Monsanto and their evil ilk and "Frankenstein" products be whisked to say Pluto? That should be far enough away. Pretty sure they would never be heard from again and this little planet and all the living things still on it would sure appreciate it. Actually, send all the "owned" politicians with them. Yeah, I like that plan alot. ;P

Arlene C (44)
Monday January 6, 2014, 7:12 am
Lu et apprécié les commentaires des mambres CARE2
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