Sunday, June 13, 2010

Attack of the Mutant Eucalyptus Trees!

"Genetically Modified Eucalyptus Trees Ignite Controversy"
Earth News, Discovery News (June 9, 2010)

"Eucalyptus trees are good for making paper. They are terrible for just about everything else – soil, insects, plants, and water.

"A paper company teamed up with ArborGen, a biotechnology organization, to genetically modify the trees to withstand freezing temperatures. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has just approved ArborGen's request to plant various test forests across seven southern states.

"Environmentalists are up in arms about the decision.

"Nicknamed 'America's Largest Weed,' it comes as no surprise that communities are worried about introducing the eucalyptus into new environments, which include 300 acres of test sites in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas...."

One word: Kudzu.

Or: 'Raising giant mutant weeds? What could possibly go wrong?'

Or: Rabbits? In Australia? What could possibly go wrong?

Or: Shut down the coolant pumps? What could possibly go wrong?1

As a rule, I'm not terribly afraid of 'frankenfood,' 'genetic engineering,' or cows. Humanity has been dealing with "artificial life forms" like macaroni wheat and domestic chickens for a very long time.

In this case, though, I think the "environmentalists" may have a point.

What's missing in the article is the connection between eucalyptus trees and those cute-looking koalas. Which are, of course, endangered. Maybe environmentalists who noticed the koala connection blew a fuse, trying to reconcile 'save the delicate North American ecosystem' with 'save the endangered koala.'

What's worrisome about the mutant eucalyptus trees is that the fellows who engineered them are pretty sure that they probably won't make as many seeds as their wild counterparts; probably won't be quite as toxic; and shouldn't spread the way rabbits did, when cony-loving Britishers introduced the critters to Australia. Where they multiplied like, well, like rabbits.

Joking aside, I think field-testing these 'safe' eucalyptus trees has "bad idea" written all over it.

Vaguely-related post:Quite unrelated post:About Koalas and Kudzu:
  • "Koala"
    Mammals, San Diego Zoo
  • "Kudzu"
    National Invasive Species Information Center, National Agricultural Library, United States Department of Agriculture

1 Remember Chernobyl?

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