UBC Undergraduate Research

Genetically modified poplars in China Song, Xiao


China has vast areas of poplar plantations serving as wind shelter, erosion control facility and industry resource. The intensive utilization of clonal forestry with its minimal genetic diversity has aroused serious pest infestation. To solve this problem and ultimately eliminate insect-caused losses, genetically engineered pest-resistant poplar has been introduced in a large scale planting. This made China the first and only country allowing genetically modified (GM) trees to be released into open environment. [Omitted Images of Populs spp.] However, the long life span of trees is likely to increase the chance in detecting transgene instability and increasing the danger to biodiversity, especially genetic diversity. It should be highlighted that the open-pollinated mating system of poplar would speed the gene dispersal of these GMO genotypes and issues related to potential environmental consequences and biosafety issues caused by gene flow and transgene escape need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner. In this article, I will analyze the condition of GM poplars released in China, review the major concerns and raise some proposals on how to eliminate the likelihood of transgene escape under the current situation. In my perspective, a prudent approach that considers the consequences of releasing GM trees, large-scale commercialization with a monitoring and risk assessing system is preferred, and corrections should not be hesitated to be made.

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