Tuesday, January 11, 2005

First arboreal genome

From The Economist print edition Jan 6th 2005

Lofty mission statements aside, the principal commercial goals of arboreal genome research are faster growth and more useful wood. The advantage of the former is obvious: more timber more quickly. More useful wood, in this context, mainly means wood that is more useful to the paper industry, an enormous consumer of trees. In particular, this industry wants to reduce the amount of lignin in the wood it uses.

Genetic modifications based on Bt are environmentally controversial. On the one hand, they reduce the amount of pesticide needed. On the other, there is a fear that the gene might “escape” from crops into wild plants that form the foodstuffs of benign insects. In the case of trees it might not even be necessary for the gene to jump species. GM trees, with immunity to insect pests and faster growth rates than their unmodified competitors, might simply spread by the normal processes of natural selection. That really would be survival of the fittest.

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