GMO trees could help environment: UBC study
Genetically modified poplar sits beside naturally grown poplar at the University of B.C. greenhouse. Their physical differences are indistinguishable by eye, says professor Shawn Mansfield. (PHOTO COURTESY UBC)
New findings that suggest genetically modified trees can be friendlier for the environment is another reason Canada should adopt planting the altered crop, says a University of B.C. researcher.
Wood science professor Shawn Mansfield said on Thursday he anticipates strong resistance because of fears genetically modified trees could affect native species.
But one advantage of genetic modification, he said, is that GMO trees could be made sterile — so they can’t reproduce — or planted in segregated farms away from native populations.
Mansfield and researchers in the U.S. have just completed two years of research on the topic. They successfully inserted the properties of a Chinese medicinal plant into poplar that makes the pulp-producing plants easier to process.
“That means less chemistry and less heat energy that needs to be used to process the wood, and also there’s a fewer amount of toxins that would be going into our waterways,” he said.
“This is a viable alternative that could be done in our own country. If we take appropriate measures it shouldn’t cause any negative impacts on our environment.”
Genetically modified trees are prohibited from being planted on Canadian soil despite the presence of GMO food crops in the country, he said. Currently, GMO trees are primarily found in China and Brazil where the focus on pulp production is strong.
Other research, Mansfield added, is ongoing to make tree species more resistant against cold, drought, pesticides and pathogens.