Genetically modified organisms are growing on trees. No, they are trees. More than 200 notices of field trials for genetically-engineered (GE) trees have been filed in the United States during the past decade, with about half coming since 2000. In addition to making trees disease- and insect-resistant, researchers hope to genetically engineer bioremediation traits so trees can help remove environmental toxins. Other goals include accelerating tree growth and reducing lignin content to improve industrial papermaking.

The problem comes in regulating research on GE trees. Prior to field testing most GE plants, US scientists must obtain approval from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), part of the US Department of Agriculture. APHIS spokeswoman Meghan Thomas says the recently released regulations covering GE crops also apply to trees. This is so, despite the fact that food crops can be planted and harvested in a single...

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