Biology

GMO poplar trees engineered to not escape into the wild

GMO poplar trees engineered to...
A multi-year study has shown that poplar trees can be genetically-modified to be sterile, meaning the GMOs can't propagate outside of designated farms 
A multi-year study has shown that poplar trees can be genetically-modified to be sterile, meaning the GMOs can't propagate outside of designated farms 
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A multi-year study has shown that poplar trees can be genetically-modified to be sterile, meaning the GMOs can't propagate outside of designated farms 
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A multi-year study has shown that poplar trees can be genetically-modified to be sterile, meaning the GMOs can't propagate outside of designated farms 

The term genetically-modified organism (GMO) may cause unease in some people, but gene-editing technologies like CRISPR have unprecedented potential in a range of fields. Even so, containment measures are in development to keep them from escaping into the wild and potentially disrupting natural ecosystems. To that end, researchers at Oregon State University have now conducted a multi-year study using GMO poplar trees and found that engineering them to be sexually sterile is an effective containment measure.

In recent years, gene-editing has been used to engineer mosquitoes that don't spread malaria, crops that protect themselves from pests so harsh chemicals don't need to be sprayed, and even pigs that produce healthier bacon. Still, these benefits don't always sway the public from decrying genetic engineering as an inherently dangerous technology, as evidenced by the European Union's tough GMO laws that now even include more mundane gene-edited plants.

That said, GMOs do still need to be handled responsibly. They may be incredibly useful in some respects, but like any introduced species, there's no telling what kind of damage they could do if unleashed into the wild. Past containment measures include a scanning device developed at Rice University that can detect GMO-associated proteins in water samples.

For the new study, Oregon State researchers engineered poplar trees to essentially contain themselves. Poplars are useful trees for producing wood and paper products due to their fast growth, but the flipside of that is they can potentially be invasive if they spread beyond farms.

Poplars reproduce sexually, with female flowers producing seeds and male flowers producing pollen to fertilize them. To keep the trees contained, the scientists altered 13 genes to either prevent them from flowering, or make them grow sterile flowers.

In field tests, the Oregon State team studied 3,300 poplar trees in a 9-acre plot of land, over seven growing seasons. Year after year, the trees reliably failed to reproduce, making it easy to keep them contained. Importantly no other traits were affected, meaning the plants were still just as useful and stable as any other.

The study was conducted only on female poplars, but the researchers say that the genes targeted are found in both sexes, and should have the same effect in males. The team also points out that poplars can spread through other methods, such as root sprouts, but these are far slower and easier to contain manually.

"People have this fear that GMO trees will take over the world, but these are containment genes that make taking over the world essentially impossible," says Steve Strauss, corresponding author of the study. "If something is GMO, people assume it's dangerous – it's guilty until proven safe in the minds of many and in our regulations today. In contrast, scientists say the focus should be on the trait and its value and safety, not the method used."

The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology.

Source: Oregon State University

4 comments
Aross
When are humans going to learn that we can not control nature no matter how smart we think we are!
KungfuSteve
So... Article says that these trees cant reproduce... but... that they can in fact spread... if not "Maintained". What happens, when the caretakers go bankrupt / get Ill/ pass away... or some natural / global catastrophe takes place? As for the Genetics not allowing trees to reproduce... that can work two ways. 1) The genetics that would have adapted to some new tree-infection / issue... would now up and die. 2) Nature can and does adapt. There has been plenty of evidence that shows this Fact. An example is of a certain type of worm that used to be Asexual. It adapted into male and female... in order to form protection, from genetic mutations. If one bad mutant were allowed to reproduce infinitely... it could destroy the entire organism's fate. Trees are Living things... and they are capable of adapting... despite of someone's Re-Programming. This is all about Ego, Money and Corruption... with little thought and regard to the potential Damages that could arise. Its typical of the new Psychopathic driven $cience. The Narcissistic Personality Disordered, are Ego driven... and they Never admit / believe they can be "Wrong". When the Crap hits the fan... they will point fingers at everyone else... despite it being all their fault. You also have the Environmental Radicals... which are similar in Disorder... whom will immediately Gamble with the lives of Billions... to try to solve problems quickly... without the time and depth of knowledge / testing... to prove 100% safety. We have seen time and time again... how much Disaster these "Fixes", have caused. Often multiplying the original "mild" damages... by a factor of 1000.
Joshua Tulberg
@Aross We can control nature, and we have been doing so for hundreds of years. Just go ask your dog.
christopher
No flowers = starve the bees. I love the way they're pretending that their scam to force farmers to buy more seeds every year is actually a good thing...