More GM Tinkering: Sticking Rabbit Genes into Poplars

A word of caution to those of you in the audience who deplore any- and everything GM-related: the content of this post may prove highly offensive/disturbing. Now that's not to say that TreeHugger approves of this type of genetic tinkering (in fact, we're not too fond of it ourselves) - we just think it has a place in the debate. For those of you still reading this - as you may have gathered from the title - a team of scientists from the University of Washington has shown that GM poplars (with a rabbit gene) can effectively break down industrial chemicals and explosives.

A team led by Sharon Doty inserted a gene that produces cytochrome P450 into several six-inch tall GM poplar cuttings and observed rates of removal of a chemical called trichloroethylene of up to 91%. Often used as an industrial degreaser, the potent ground water contaminant was reduced to a number of harmless byproducts - salt, water and carbon dioxide - at a rate 100 times as fast as in unaffected poplars. In addition, the poplars were also able to break down a number of other environmental pollutants, including chloroform, vinyl chloride and carbon tetrachloride. While poplars are no strangers to the use of cytochrome P450 to eliminate contaminants, the rabbit gene allowed them to produce it at a much higher rate.

"In view of their large size and extensive root systems, these transgenic poplars may provide the means to effectively clean sites contaminated with a variety of pollutants at much faster rates and at lower costs than can be achieved with current conventional techniques," said Doty, who acknowledged that some people may feel uneasy about the prospects of having GM forests, let alone GM trees.

She explained that the poplars' faster growth rates and slow flowering made it less likely that the genes could be transferred to wild-type populations. "Our ultimate goal is to provide a more rapid way to reduce the amount of carcinogens, one that is affordable so many sites can be treated," she added, seeking to allay concerns. But is it worth it?

Via ::Guardian Unlimited: Trees with rabbit genes accelerate cleaning of soil (news website)

See also: ::GM Food Debates Heats Up with Global Warming, ::How Can We Make Sure We Stay GM Free? - The Observer Asks If We Have Become Complacent In The Battle To Keep Our Food Natural
Images courtesy of Duloup and Dano via flickr

Tags: GMO | Seattle

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