Transgene Aspen And Cloned Karelian Birch

Long ago genetic engineering got deep reach into pharmacological and food industry, agriculture and medicine. The trees are no exclusion, but genetic engineers started to deal with them approximately ten years later than with other objects: the trees are too difficult for genetic investigations and manipulations. The wood plant genetic engineering activities are now in full swing in different countries of the world, including Russia. When improving trees through classical selection methods, the researchers first of all focus on the growth rate, wood quality, resistance to vermin and diseases, herbicides, salts and other stresses. Genetic engineering allows to do the same but much quicker. Russian scientists have obtained several accelerated growth wood species.

Specialists of the Siberian Institute of Physiology and Biochemistry of Plants, Northern Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences (Irkutsk), have applied classical methods and transformed via the corn gene ugt the aspen, poplar and Cembra pine (the latter being traditionally miscalled cedar). This gene codes the synthesis of the enzyme, which ensures the high level of vegetative hormone auxin. Auxin is necessary for the plant growth and development, and the trees with the respective corn gene do develop much quicker. Such plants could be used in the future in dedicated plantations with a short turnus. These plantations could be set up around woodworking enterprises. Such plantations will save primeval taiga woods from felling and would allow to reduce transportation costs for wood delivery to woodworking sites.

The researchers from the Research Institute of Wood Genetics and Selection (Voronezh) applied a different technology of getting trees from the cell culture. They have chosen the most valuable species – Karelian birch. The researchers selected the trees with the most beautiful patterned timber, got the cell culture – calluses – from their stems, and cultivated the birch-trees from the calluses. The long-term field trials have proved that the cloned trees grow well, within 3-4 years their stems become tuberous or ribbed – these are the exterior signs patterned timber. When the tree is 5-8 years old, all the birch-trees without exception are patterned. If the Karelian birch is cultivated from the seeds under a common technology, the signs of patterned timber appera much later – at the age of 10 to12.

The ability to manipulate genes is one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century biology, but it also imposes serious responsibility on the scientists for possible environmental consequences, which should be taken into account along with the growing economic benefits from trangenes. The prospects for utilization of accelerated development plants look promising, but a lot of Russian researchers advise that thorough analysis should be made of possible consequences before new technologies are launched into series. Accelerated growth trees may exhaust the soil quickly, and genetically modified pollen can change the natural structure of forest population. So far neither Russia or other countries have convincing enough responses to these questions.

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