Transgenic Trees – The science behind future EU policy, regulations and safety assessments
COST Action FP0905 addresses the issue of biosafety for transgenic trees on the January issue of Nature Biotechnology.
COST Action FP0905 has a clear-cut mission: coordinating research on ‘Biosafety of forest transgenic trees and improving the scientific basis for safe tree development and implementation of EU policy directives’. This first COST Action on genetically modified (GM) trees is timely, relevant and innovative – especially considering the current European debate on cultivation and commercialisation of GM plants, as well as the increasing role attributed to engineered crops and trees in mitigating climate change and environmental pollution.
Forest trees, not only crop plants
COST Action FP0905 provides a platform that responds to the urgent need to compile, collate and analyse available knowledge related to GM trees. Its main objective is to evaluate and substantiate scientific data relevant to the biosafety of GM trees. This is of particular importance, as most of the consensus documents on biosafety issues and approvals of transgenic organisms to date have been assembled for crop plants, not for forest trees. As the first scientific network gathering such information, the Action will contribute to the scientific basis underlying future EU policy, regulation and safety assessment of GM trees.
On the ideal tree
The COST Action will work on the scientific risk assessment of new research directions to improve or develop novel tree genotypes in answer to the worldwide increasing demand for fuel, fibre and energy. The ideal tree would be one that has a high biomass yield, grows easily in variable climate conditions and does not require high amounts of water, nutrients or aid to protect the tree’s growth. Genetic engineering may offer the opportunity to reach some of these desired characteristics substantially faster than conventional tree breeding.
A growing Action!
COST Action FP0905 currently includes participants from institutions from 26 COST countries as well as 18 institutions from Albania, Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States.
The collaboration between the scientists involved will be fundamental to building scientific consensus on safety issues, assisting in policy-making efforts and enabling the scientific community to respond to public concerns in a responsible way, with particular regard to socioeconomic implications, environmental impacts and other biosafety issues surrounding plantations of GM trees.
This Action is an excellent instrument to stimulate a pan-European exchange and improve scientific knowledge on biosafety of GM trees. Further details are described in the Letter to the Editor on page 37 of January’s issue of Nature Biotechnology.