August 17, 2004
Genetic engineering may soon make it possible for trees to grow faster, absorb more pollutants and fight diseases without herbicide, according to scientists.
Dr. Richard Meagher of the University of Georgia is conducting an experiment with 160 Eastern cottonwood trees that sit on a site where 35 hat factories were once located. He has genetically engineered them to absorb toxic mercury from the soil, convert it into a less toxic form and then release it into the air.
Other tree experiments are taking place around the country as well:
- Dr. Steven Strauss at Oregon State University would like to create trees with less of the fiber lignin, which will enable them to grow faster and make them desirable for logging on plantation forests.
- Strauss and his colleagues are also looking at creating trees which will absorb more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
- Researchers are using genetic engineering to produce a disease-resistant American chestnut tree, which has been decimated by an Asian fungus.
Strauss is working on strategies for gene containment, including control of flowering cycles and sterility. He is also exploring ways to link desirable traits to traits that make a tree less invasive.
Source: Hillary Rosner, "Turning Genetically Engineered Trees into Toxic Avengers," New York Times, August 4, 2004.
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