New Zealand’s Scion to seek approval for new GE trees

NOTE: U.S. GE Tree developer ArborGen has made an agreement with Scion to work together on GE tree projects.  For more on this, go to: ArborGen Renews Agreement with Scion to Advance Biomaterials Development and Forest Productivity

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Source: Otago Daily Times

State science company Scion Research is putting together an application for genetic engineering of forestry trees which it hopes will lead to traits such as faster-growing trees.

The project — to involve as many as 4000 trees — is expected to go to new organisms regulator the Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma) in the next few months.

“There is huge potential for genetically modified trees to add value to the forestry industry,” said a spokeswoman for the science company, Christl McMillan.

“Increased productivity of plantation forests also will provide the option for preserving natural forest areas.”

The GE trees will enable researchers to test genes influencing a range of traits that may be used to produce improved radiata pine trees, including increased wood density and stability, improved use of woody biomass, and improved tree growth.

Strengthening specific traits in trees – such as the speed of growth – could lead to environmental benefits including increased carbon sequestration, more options for the sustainable production of biofuels and positive contributions to the mitigation of climate change.

Scion announced in 2007 that it was investigating the potential for using enzymes to break down cellulose into sugars, which could then be fermented and refined into ethanol and other products.

More than 50 percent of New Zealand’s energy use is fossil fuel-based, with the country consuming more than 3 billion litres of petrol annually.

But the nation also has 7 percent of its land in plantation forests, and by establishing 1.8 million hectares of energy forests – effectively doubling the area of existing plantations – on low-value marginal land, biofuel could replace the petrol used for vehicles.

“By 2035, Scion estimates that there will be a net gain to the New Zealand economy of $4.8 billion per year based on projected oil prices ($120-$140 a barrel),” Ms McMillan said today.

“The scenario would reduce New Zealand’s total reliance in imported oil for energy by 60 percent”.

There was also scope, on a commercial scale, for genetic engineering to lead to the development of trees with traits that improved wood quality, gave them the ability to store carbon, and improved resistance to herbicide, insect pests, and disease, and environmental problems such as cold temperatures.

It was also possible to produce genetically-engineered trees which would not reproduce.

Scion said it had discussed with Erma the scientific evidence for radiata pine tree pollen to drift, in light of the fact that more than 90 percent of pollen had been shown to travel less than 300 metres.

“The development of reproductive material (pollen or seed) has now been excluded from the field trial, and any pollen evaluations that are needed will be done within a containment glasshouse,” said Ms McMillan.

Erma said Scion’s application would be subject to its “usual rigorous application process” including public notification and submissions, and assessment of risks, costs and benefits.

© Allied Press Limited 2010.

print