Crop Biotech Update

Biotechnology to Possibly Address Forest Health Problems

January 16, 2019

The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report that states that biotechnology may be part of the means in protecting forest trees against destructive pests and disease outbreaks. By using biotechnology to introduce pest-resistant traits to trees, threats such as the introduction of non-native tree pests and diseases hastened by climate change and global trade and travel may be mitigated. Two tree species, the American Chestnut and hybrid poplars, are currently under field trials to address forest health issues.

The report also recommends further research to improve the use of biotechnology as a forest health tool. Challenges such as the poor understanding of how the trees' genetic mechanisms resist pests, the delay of identifying genetic changes in trees due to complex genomes, and the lack of information on the effects of releasing new tree genotypes to the environment were identified. The report also stated the importance of studying the societal responses to the use of biotechnology to address forest health threats for sound decision making. Furthermore, respectful, deliberative, transparent, and inclusive processes of engaging with people to increase understanding of forest health threats and biotechnology were pointed out.

If pursued, the development of these biotech trees can decrease the severity of threats to the North American forests, therefore increasing the chances of having and retaining a healthy forest ecosystem.

For more details, read the U.S. National Academies' report highlights and press release.