Scientists and environmentalists must join one another in support of genetically modified trees. Biotechnology has afforded mankind a new method for preserving and restoring the natural landscape of the earth through genetic engineering. The use of genetically modified trees will not only help support the natural landscape but also improve preservation efforts and encourage balance between the needs of environmentalists and commercial enterprises.
For thousands of years mankind has relied on trees for economic and health reasons. In recent years however the landscape has significantly changed as more and more natural forests are depleted to due natural and unnatural causes. This has resulted in multiple deleterious effects on both the health, economy and well being of mankind and the environment. Biotechnology has afforded new hope however, allowing researchers to produce artificial trees offering many of the same benefits, if not more benefits than natural forests offer both commercially and environmentally. The use of genetic engineering to manufacture trees is a safe, sound and highly promising area of technology. These ideas are explored in greater detail below.
Support for Genetic Engineering
There are many cases where having a genetically modified tree is desirable. This is the case for example for the papaya tree, a tree often attacked by the papaya ringspot virus, a virus that can not only reduce fruit production but also destroy papaya trees in multiple areas including in Jamaica, Venezuela, Australia and more (Avise 2004). Failure of certain trees to thrive due to viruses may result in upward of $45 million dollars in expenses annually to countries that rely on certain trees for fruit and other agricultural production (Avise 2004).
Cornell University scientists recently cloned the gene necessary to produce genetically modified papaya trees resistant to this virus, thus "immunizing the trees from the virus" (Avise 2004:4). In this case this not only boosts papaya production but also ensures the rich agricultural revenues many countries rely on when farming trees for a living.
Studies suggest that genetically engineered trees are just as sturdy as traditional trees and may grow even faster than normal trees, in part due to an increase in cellulose production (Avise 2004). Recent studies suggest pin, aspen and eucalyptus trees are also good candidates for genetic engineering.
Opponents suggest the long-term ecological impacts of genetic engineering are impossible to assess and possibly counter (Avise 2004). For example, many question whether fungi and bacteria will respond to genetically modified tress, as well as plants and animals. By and large it is likely that most of the ecological effects will be subtle, but it is good to point out that these trees will have to be monitored for extensive periods of time to assess the long-term effects of genetically engineered trees (Avise 2004). It is possible for example that these tress might degrade faster after they die, which may impact cavity nesting birds or other species that reside in rotting wood (Avise 2004).
Studies by and large however support use of genetically engineered trees, reporting that most remain healthy over extended periods of time and act just as natural trees with both insects, plant and animal species and even microbes (Avise 2004). Most yield high quality pulp and produce environmental benefits, including enhancing the efficiency of "wood product industries, thereby lessening harvesting pressures on native stands" (Avise 2004). Use of genetically modified tress for supplying pulp and paper may dramatically help meet the needs for wood products without decimating forests and negatively impacting natural woodlands (Avise, 2004).
Public debate continues regarding the applications of genetically altered trees and other forms of agriculture (Sierra Club 2005). There are other concerns raised that new genes utilized in genetically engineered trees may interfere with natural forestry, a risk that certainly exists (Sierra Club 2005). However this doesn't overwhelm the benefits or potential applications of genetically altered trees. Commercial development of trees without environmental safeguards might be hazardous as the Sierra Club points out. As such groups like this often oppose deployment of out of doors genetically engineered technology because these trees are free to pollinate at will.
The fact of the matter is however many opponents are consumed with the 'what ifs'. What if for example genetically engineered pine trees grow without pine cones (Sierra Club 2005). What if animals don't live in genetically modified trees? What if genetically…