Eucalyptus trees can be genetically modified so that they do not invade local ecosystems

Corvallis, pray. The camphor plant, which is an evergreen and pest-resistant plant, because it contains strong wood and oil that promotes health, can be genetically modified so that it does not reproduce through sexual contact, which is an essential step towards preventing tree planting in the world from invading local ecosystems.

Steve Strauss of Oregon State University led an international collaboration that demonstrated the potential to use the CRISPR Cas9 gene-editing technology with nearly 100% efficiency to eliminate LEAFY, the key gene behind flower formation.

“The flowers never developed to the point where eggs, pollen or fertile seeds were observed,” Strauss said. There was no negative effect that could be detected on the growth or shape of the trees. The field study should be the next step to get a more accurate look at the stability of vegetative and syphilis traits, but with a physical genetic mutation we expect high reliability over the life of the trees. “

The results have been published in The Journal of Plant Biotechnology.

Strauss, PhD. Student Estefania Elorriaga and Research Assistant Kathleen Ma collaborated with scientists at the University of Colorado, Beijing Forestry University, and the University of Pretoria on the research. The greenhouse study included a hybrid of two species, Eucalyptus grandis and E. urophylla, widely cultivated in the Southern Hemisphere. There are more than 700 species of eucalyptus, most of which are native to Australia.

“Nearly 7% of the world’s forests are farms, and 25% of that farmland area contains non-native species and hybrids,” said Elorriaga, now a postdoctoral researcher in North Carolina. “Eucalyptus is one of the most widely cultivated species of forest trees, particularly 5.7 million hectares of eucalyptus in Brazil, 4.5 million hectares in China and 3.9 million hectares in India.”

Scientists note that these farms can lead to unwanted mixing with local ecosystems. Thus, eliminating the ability of those trees to reproduce sexually without affecting other characteristics would be an effective way to greatly reduce the potential for invasive spread in areas where this is an important environmental or economic problem.

“This was the first successful implementation of CRISPR to solve a commercial problem in forest trees,” said Elorriaga. “Research with CRISPR in forest trees to modify different traits is continuing in many laboratories around the world. Global warming has major impacts on forests of all kinds, and gene editing may be an important new reproductive tool to complement traditional methods.”

Strauss notes that despite the promising results, genetically modified trees as they were in this research could not be legally cultivated in Brazil, a country with some of the greatest economic value from growing eucalyptus trees.

“This trait cannot be used there because of laws that prohibit the modification of plant reproduction with recombinant DNA methods,” he said. “It would also be disallowed for field research or commercial use under the Sustainable Forest Management Certification in many parts of the world – something scientists have come together to criticize vigorously in recent years.”

Just over two years ago, Strauss was part of a coalition of forest researchers calling for a review of what they see as overly restrictive policies in biotechnology research.

He said, “We hope that such a study, which shows how accurate and safe technology is in modifying features, which helps enhance environmental safety, will help in changing the regulations and certification rules.” “Fortunately, discussions like this are going well in many countries.”


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