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    2009 - 12.16

    Investing in forestry has become more topical of late with growing pressure on forestry plantations to increase yields and  protect natural forests by reducing the rates of deforestation. There is a noticeable surge in interest  in the Genetic Modification(GM) of forestry species.  Genetic Modification of agricultural crops has been practiced for many years, for various crops of commercial importance. However, with respect to forestry, despite the numerous investigations being performed in the sector, there are no commercial plantings of GM forestry within many of its species. Several experiments in the laboratory and field are being conducted in several countries and some successful trials have been announced by the forestry companies themselves. Reasons of commercial sensitivity keep these kind of news announcements to a minimum no doubt within the competing forestry businesses.

    In no particular order, here are examples of countries involved in GM forestry

    Belgium was the first country to field test GM trees in 1988.

    United States  has the largest number of trials with GM trees is performed in the USA. In excess of 300 field experiments have been or are being conducted.

    Chile – Research is focused on Pinus Radiata and Eucalyptus consortium of multinational companies such as GenFor (joint venture between Canada’s Silvagen, American Interlink and Fundación Chile).

    China- More than one million GM Populus have been planted since 2002

    Germany – At present, there are experiments being conducted in experimental fields at the Universities of Freiburg and Tübingen.

    Israel – experiments have been conducted with Populus, Eucalyptus and Pinus, aiming to obtain higher cellulose content, faster growing trees and superior fibre properties.

    Japan – many species have been genetically engineered by Japanese scientists, including eucalyptus, Japanese cedar, poplar and acacia.  Some of the field experiments have been conducted in Japan, whilst others have taken place in Vietnam and Indonesia.

    Brazil – The field experiments include studies with genetically modified eucalyptus, engineered for rapid growth, reduction and modification of lignin for pulp production, improved wood quality and tolerance to herbicides. These experiments have been conducted mainly in the states of Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul

    Focising on Brazil for a moment, all experiments which involve Genetic Modification, both in the laboratory and in situ on the plantation must have relevant authorisation from the regulatory bodies.  The National Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio), established in 2005, provides advice to the Federal Government in the formulation, updating and implementation of the National Biosafety on genetically modified crops including forestry products. The authority is responsible for establishing the technical standards of safety and technical advice concerning the protection of human well being and the environment.

    The transformation of forestry species depends on the “in vitro”  cultivation of the trees in the laboratory. However, the technique can be seen as an important ally to the breeding programs of forest species. Due to slow growth, long periods of life,  sexual incompatibility and seasonal cycles of growth, changes in developmental stages over the years, wood formation and adaptation of long-term environmental variations, the traditional breeding takes tens of years for trees with superior characteristics to be naturally selected before being used for cloning in forestry plantations.

    An successful of GM example to be cited is Genolyptus project, whose objective was to evaluate the genome of Eucalyptus and isolate genes of economic interest. The forest species that has been most researched in the field of genetic transformation are the Poplar and Eucalyptus and main characteristics are genetically engineered (i) reduction or alteration of the reproductive cycle, (ii) modification of plant architecture, (iii) manipulation of lignin and cellulose, (iv) resistance to diseases and pests, and (v) tolerance to herbicides and abiotic stresses.

    Since its creation, all institutions and public or private companies who wish to do research laboratory or field of GMOs, must submit a formal request for registration of laboratories or field trials, following high standards of biosecurity. After the trial, the Commission may or may not grant the request for the experiments. Several applications are submitted each year for forest species, especially species of the genus Eucalyptus, which are reviewed and judged.  Among the companies that have already obtained permission for field trials with GM trees in Brazil are Suzano, International Paper, ArborGen, Alellyx Applied Genomics and Monsanto.

    The Timber Investment Blog is sponsored by Greenwood Management. For more information on investing in Forestry please click here

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