Domesticated Trees May Save Forests

Article excerpt

Trees grown specifically for use as plywood or furniture may be the crop of the future.

Domesticated trees--the forestry equivalent of crops like corn and soybeans--could be bred and grown for specific characteristics, reducing the need to log in wilderness areas, say researchers at Purdue University.

Identifying gene function is the first step in eventually developing trees with ideal characteristics, such as insect resistance, improved wood properties, or delayed flower production. The task then is to produce multiple trees with those traits.

Richard Meilan, professor of molecular physiology at Purdue, and his colleagues used two related techniques known as gene trapping and enhancer trapping to identify genes. These techniques identify genes based on their activity patterns.

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Once a gene that controls a desired trait is identified, scientists can manipulate the gene's activity, Meilan says. They can produce a tree that flowers at a different time than other trees of the same species, for example. They could also transfer genes such as those for insect resistance into trees that don't ordinarily have them. …