Policy ForumBiotechnology

Genetically engineered trees: Paralysis from good intentions

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Science  21 Aug 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6250, pp. 794-795
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab0493

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Intensive genetic modification is a longstanding practice in agriculture, and, for some species, in woody plant horticulture and forestry (1). Current regulatory systems for genetically engineered crops, in which recombinant DNA is used to asexually insert or modify DNA, were created decades ago with good intentions for caution and forethought. Likewise, forest certification systems were created to promote responsible forest management and sustainable practices. However, both systems are at odds with the need for rapid and innovative biotechnologies to help forests cope with growing pest epidemics and mounting abiotic stresses as a result of global travel and climate change. As the U.S. government recently initiated an update of the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology (2), now is an opportune time to consider foundational changes.