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An international research team led by Oregon State University reported that eucalyptus, a pest-resistant evergreen tree valued for its hardy lumber and wellness-promoting oil, can be genetically modified to not reproduce. This is a key step towards preventing the tree from invading native ecosystems.

Led by Steve Krauss from Oregon State University, the team used the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique to knock out LEAFY, the master gene behind flower formation. Strauss, PhD candidate Estefania Elorriaga and research assistant Cathleen Ma collaborated with scientists at the University of Colorado, Beijing Forestry University, and the University of Pretoria.

Eucalyptus hybrid used in study

The greenhouse study involved a hybrid of two species, namely Eucalyptus grandis and Eucalyptus urophylla. These species are widely planted in the southern hemisphere.

According to Elorriaga, 7% of the world’s forests are plantations. In addition, some 25% of that area contains non-native species and hybrids. “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.”

Elorriaga notes that those plantings can lead to undesirable mingling with native ecosystems. She added that eliminating those trees’ ability to reproduce would effectively reduce the potential for invasive spreading in areas in which it is considered an ecological or economic problem.

Read the full article in the Oregon State University Newsroom. – International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications

Read more about GM trees here.