Genetically engineered trees do not belong in our forests

Bangor Daily News 19 July 2020

Theresa Church

The COVID-19 pandemic has given us a rare interlude to evaluate the notion of business as usual. It has exposed mounting flaws and inequalities as a result of the collapse of an economic system that is stacked against us. There has been no respite, however, for the environment with Environmental Protection Agency rollbacks amid the pandemic, even though new viruses will likely continue to emerge and spread due to our destruction of forest ecosystems. Despite this, modern science continues to persevere with a new threat to native forests and wild ecosystems.

Trees, like genetically modified organism (GMO) crops are being engineered to have new traits such as faster growth, insect and disease resistance, herbicide tolerance and altered wood composition. Though none of these genetically engineered trees are legal yet, a blight-resistant American chestnut is being proposed for release in the U.S. and Canada.

The University of New England is partnering with SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry to develop the first ever genetically engineered forest tree. Researchers have genetically engineered an American chestnut tree to be resistant to the blight that has killed most of these trees in the wild. The tree is transgenic, meaning that it has been genetically engineered using genes from other species, mainly a gene from wheat, into a species that has never existed in nature before.

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