GM Trees – What’s the fuss?

I have recently been perturbed by the advances in biotechnology, especially in relation to genetically engineered/modified trees. I was blissfully (and rather naively) unaware that this particular field of study had made such scientific advances.

Since the USDA approved genetically modified trees for planting back in 2010, The Global Justice Ecology Project have been monitoring this with quite alarming results as published in their report.

ArborGen, are forging ahead with GM eucalyptus test plantations across the southern states of the US. Major concerns are that these fast growing, non-native trees create a kind of Green Desert where nothing else can grow, and therefore threaten native forests.

As documented in renowned geneticist, David Suzuki‘s documentary, The Silent Forest  the main objective for GM trees are to yield more crops, most typically for the timber and paper industries. Thus the GE tree is sterile, herbicide resistant, has low lignin which gives the tree it’s rigidity and strength, but is expensive and difficult to remove and is in itself a total pesticide. This is achieved by the molecular introduction of the Bt Toxin which is expressed throughout the root system to the leaves and pollen. This in turn effects the surrounding soil which leaches into the water table, whilst tree pollen can travel hundreds of miles. The main problem being that the pesticide is non-selective, as can be seen in the case of Monarch Butterflies that have decreased by some 75%.

Furthermore, Bt toxin resistant pests are already evolving, which means harsher pesticides will need to be developed to counteract these new super bugs.

So, what was promoted as an increase in biofuel production to reduce the plundering of fossil fuels may be even more harmful in the long-term, as we cannot envisage the ramifications of these monocultures on our planet’s sensitive ecosystem that has taken millions of years to evolve, and possibly just one or two generations to mutate.