- Genetically engineered (GE) trees are a new frontier of plant biotechnology. While US, intends to release GE trees in the wild, experts have warned of its possible environmental impacts.
Genetically Engineered trees
- A genetically modified tree is a tree whose DNA has been modified using genetic engineering techniques.
- It may also mean extracting DNA from another organism’s genome and combining it with the DNA of that individual.
- GE trees can help in fighting climate change by sequestering more carbon, boost biofuel production, help in growing more timber, pulp etc.
- While the US is the only country that is considering the introduction of GE tree varieties in the wild, many others have been experimenting with GE tree varieties for commercial plantations.
- In 2002, China allowed the commercial plantations of two varieties of GE insect-resistant poplar trees. The country has planted about 1.4 million GE poplar trees on 300- 500 hectares.
- In Brazil, the country’s native eucalyptus variety was found to be more productive than it’s GE varieties.
- In 2021, the research institute under the Rubber Board received clearance from the Assam government to carry out the field trials for GE Rubber.
- The GE variety has been modified by inserting additional copies of the gene Mnsod (manganese containing superoxide dismutase) which enables the plant to tolerate extreme climatic stress.
- Further, the GE rubber variety will allow non–traditional rubber states such as Assam and Mizoram to cultivate better quality rubber.
Environmental consequences of GE Trees
- GE trees negatively alter soil structure and degrade productive forest, farmland, and other ecosystems.
- GE tree plantations require high amounts of greenhouse gas-emitting chemicals, notably synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, which is responsible for around 60 percent of total global nitrous oxide emissions.
- Planting eucalyptus hybrid plantations will lower the water table, and affect groundwater recharge and stream flow dynamics.
- GE trees could become potentially invasive , thereby causing a threat to native biodiversity and endemic species.
- Research in GE Trees is driven by the interests of industries, even though it is being pushed as a method to address threats to forest health or preserve and restore nature.
- It is feared that GE trees will be protected by patents and companies that sell GE trees will determine what conditions must be met in order to make profits.
- Experiments conducted on GE trees show that engineering resistance to one pathogen often leaves plants more susceptible to other pathogens or stresses.
- Large areas of forests are owned and inhabited by indigenous people and biodiversity.GE trees hold the potential to fundamentally reshape the shared environment.
- The lack of current policy addressing GE crops and GE trees specifically could lead to innumerable environmental and socioeconomic harms. However, it also provides many opportunities and avenues for change.
- Further, government research in GE Trees can help break the private sector monopoly.