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Crop Biotech Update

Study Shows Poplar Trees Can Be Genetically Engineered Not to Spread

August 8, 2018

The largest field-based study of genetically modified (GM) forest trees has shown that genetic engineering can prevent new seedlings from establishing.

Poplars are fast growing trees and the source of many products, from paper to pallets to plywood to frames for upholstered furniture. Poplars have female and male trees, where female flowers produce the seeds and male flowers make the pollen needed for fertilization. The Oregon State University study led by Professor Steve Strauss looked at 3,300 poplar trees in a 9-acre tract over seven growing seasons. Strauss and colleagues assessed different approaches to make both genders of poplar sterile, focusing on 13 genes involved in the making of flowers or controlling the onset of reproduction.

The research team discovered modifications that prevented the trees from producing viable sexual propagules without affecting other traits, and did so reliably year after year. The studies focused on a female, early-flowering poplar that facilitates research, but the genes they targeted are known to affect both pollen and seed, and thus should provide general approaches to containment.

For more details, read the news release from Oregon State University.