Global warming causing eucalyptus trees, used for lumber, to invade native ecosystems. CRISPR gene editing could prevent that

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Credit: Timber & Forestry News
Credit: Timber & Forestry News

Oregon State University’s Steve Strauss led an international collaboration that showed [a] CRISPR Cas9 gene editing technique could be used with nearly 100% efficiency to knock out LEAFY, the master gene behind flower formation [in eucalyptus, limiting the plant’s ability to sexually reproduce.]

“Roughly 7% of the world’s forests are plantations, and 25% of that plantation area contains nonnative species and hybrids,” said [Estefania] Elorriaga, now a postdoctoral researcher at North Carolina State. “Eucalyptus is one of the most widely planted genera of forest trees, particularly the 5.7 million hectares of eucalyptus in Brazil, the 4.5 million hectares in China and 3.9 million hectares in India.”

Those plantings, the scientists note, can lead to undesirable mingling with native ecosystems. Thus eliminating those trees’ ability to sexually reproduce without affecting other characteristics would be an effective way to greatly reduce the potential for invasive spreading in areas where that is considered an important ecological or economic problem.

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Strauss points out that despite the promising findings, trees genetically modified as they were in this research could not legally be planted in Brazil, a nation with some of the largest economic value from eucalyptus tree farming.

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