Magazine article American Forests

"Frankentrees"?

Magazine article American Forests

"Frankentrees"?

Article excerpt

An anonymous group of environmental activists chopped down or girdled nearly a thousand cottonwoods and aspens at Oregon State University this spring, hoping to stop experimental genetic engineering on the trees.

Then in May, the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture went up in flames, destroying laboratories, classrooms, and years of research. Some professors suspect 11 eco-terrorists" started the blaze. A small part of the center's work involves genetic engineering of trees.

After the Oregon incident, the culprits said in an open letter, "The test plots of the Populus genus trees. . . were independently assessed and found to be a dangerous experiment of unknown genetic consequence." The letter accused Steven Strauss, the forestry professor leading the research, of turning poplars into "frankentrees."

Strauss heads a research cooperative at Oregon State that is experimenting with genetic engineering as a way to improve forestry. Among its goals: to develop trees that grow more quickly, that are diseaseand insect-resistant, and that are tolerant of certain herbicides, like Roundup.

"Why not take marginal land, that might not otherwise be used, and grow and manage it intensively so we can grow trees rapidly to satisfy demands for fiber," says Rick Meilan, the associate director of the consortium. …

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