Scientists call for a halt to tree genetic research

The issue of the genetic modification has again made headlines.

A university has defended its programme of genetically modifying trees, following calls by delegates at a UN conference for a moratorium on the practice. The University of Abertay Dundee has been conducting Forestry Commission-funded trials of GM Ulmus since 1992 in an effort to engineer strains that are resistant to Dutch elm disease. Geneticist Dr Ricarda Steinbrecher of the Federation of German Scientists, a co-signatory of the demand, said: “The potential impact of GM trees on forests and communities globally is serious and, given that we have insufficient scientific data, it is crucial to halt all releases — at least until such data become available.” But a university representative said: “The specimens are kept under laboratory conditions. Ulmus procera doesn’t set viable seed in this country, so there is no threat from pollen getting out.” He denied the trials were being conducted in secret, as reported in the national press, and added that the project was “not near commercialisation”. GM research has also taken place in the UK on Populus for the paper industry, Eucalyptus, and Malus on behalf of the fresh produce industry.

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