Send

Do genetically modified trees pose a risk to the environment?

How safe are transgenic trees? What are the findings to date? GMO Safety discussed the issue with Matthias Fladung, Director of Genome Research and Deputy Director of the Institute of Forest Genetics at the Johann-Heinrich von Thünen Institute (vTI).

Dr. Matthias Fladung

Genetically modified (GM) trees are being developed since 1986. Over 700 release trials have taken place. The GM trees are intended to make the production of renewable raw materials, e.g. for biofuels, more efficient and more environmentally friendly. However, opponents of the deliberate release of GM trees are also making themselves heard. For instance, the German Society for Nature Conservation (NABU) has described the long-term consequences of growing GM trees as unforeseeable for nature and the environment, and refers to a study published by the Testbiotech association in December 2010.


In an interview with GMO Safety, Matthias Fladung points out that GM trees have been tested in the field for over 20 years and that, so far, there is no scientific evidence of any specific environmental risks associated with GM trees. Nevertheless, Matthias Fladung argues that we must prevent GM trees from spreading in the complex ecosystem of the forest. This is, he claims, also the aim of the biosafety research into genetically modified trees, which is based on the precautionary principle.

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is currently funding two research projects at the Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute (Institute of Forest Genetics, Grosshansdorf) on preventing the spread of GM trees. One project is producing genetically modified poplars that produce pollen which, unlike all other parts of the plant, no longer contains the genetic modification. Another project is checking how reliably the spread of GM trees can be prevented by using male-sterile trees that produce infertile pollen or none at all. Both projects are intended to prevent the spread of GM trees via pollen dispersal.

To the interview:

Photo material

Poplar plantation in China: Mixed test planting with Bt poplars and conventional poplars

Poplar plantation in China: Mixed test planting with Bt poplars and conventional poplars

Source: Dr. Dietrich Ewald, BFH Waldsieversdorf / www.biosicherheit.de

Male flowers forming on an early-flowering poplar

Male flowers forming on an early-flowering poplar

Source: Dr. Hans Hönicka, Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institut (vTI) / www.biosicherheit.de

Anthers (stained red) and pollen grains under the microscope

Anthers (stained red) and pollen grains under the microscope

Source: Dr. Hans Hönicka, Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institut (vTI) / www.biosicherheit.de

Sterile, early-flowering poplar

Sterile, early-flowering poplar

Source: Dr. Hans Hönicka, Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institut (vTI) / www.biosicherheit.de