Canadian Forest Service Publications

Current status and environmental impact of transgenic trees. 2004. van Frankenhuyzen, K.; Beardmore, T. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 34: 1163-1180.

Year: 2004

Issued by: Great Lakes Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 24943

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Mark record


Advances in technology for in vitro propagation and genetic transformation have accelerated the development of genetically engineered trees during the past 15 years. At least 33 species of transformed forest trees have been successfully regenerated to date. Targeted traits include herbicide tolerance, pest resistance, abiotic stress tolerance, modified fiber quality and quantity, and altered growth and reproductive development. Commercial potential has been demonstrated in the field for a few traits, in particular herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, and altered lignin content. Now that commercial implementation is feasible, at least for the few genotypes that can be efficiently transformed and propagated, environmental concerns have become the main obstacle to public acceptance and regulatory approval. Ecological risks associated with commercial release range from transgene escape and introgression into wild gene pools to the impact of transgene products on other organisms and ecosystem processes. Evaluation of those risks is confounded by the long life span of trees, and by limitations of extrapolating results from small-scale studies to larger-scale plantations. Issues that are central to safe deployment can only be addressed by permitting medium- to large-scale release of transgenic trees over a full rotation. Current regulations restricting field releases of all transgenes in both time and space need to be replaced with regulations that recognize different levels of risk (as determined by the origin of the transgene, its impact on reproductive fitness, and nontarget impacts) and assign a commensurate level of confinement. The next step in determining acceptability of transgene technology for forest tree improvement is the unconfined release of constructs that pose little risk in terms of gene escape and nontarget impacts, such as lignin-altered poplar or pine, to permit evaluation of ecological risks and environmental or agronomic benefits at relevant scales.