Commercially Important Loblolly Pine Genetically Modified

September 9, 2002

Commercially Important Pine Genetically Modified

OCA note: this news story is largely taken from the TAES press release.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, September 6, 2002 (ENS) - The most commercially important forest species in the southern United States, the loblolly pine, has been genetically engineered for the first time, researchers at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station report in the journal "Molecular Breeding."

Scientists are attempting to improve the native southern pine with such traits as drought tolerance and disease and pest resistance, says lead researcher Dr. Jean Gould, an Experiment Station molecular biologist. The quality of the wood products also may be transformed with the new technology, she said.

"Loblolly pine has been challenging to genetically engineer because the genotype is very difficult to regenerate into plants in tissue culture," said Gould.

The transformation was done with a marker gene to prove that such genetic transfer could be done and that plants carrying the gene could be regenerated.

Gould's method for transforming plants - using a plant's meristem region for inoculation with Agrobacterium - was patented by the Experiment Station in 1992. The first plants transformed using this method were petunia and corn, followed by cotton and rice.

"While some crop plants have been selectively bred for more than 10,000 years, programs for the genetic improvement of pine are less than 100 years old," Gould said.

Loblolly pines dominate some 29 million acres in the southern United States, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The species grows quickly when young and lives about 75 years, but does not reach reproductive maturity for up to 10 years after germination. Traditional breeding programs would take decades to make the changes that Gould and her colleagues are attempting.

In the study, transformation of loblolly pines using the meristem based method resulted in regeneration and survival of 10 to 30 percent of the shoots inoculated. Lab analysis showed that the genes were transferred to the genome of the new plants.

"These results suggest that a shoot based transformation method can be used in the genetic engineering of this important but stubborn species," Gould said. "There is a broad spectrum of applicability for this technology in the genetic improvement of all commercial pines."

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