Technical Briefing

Potential Ecological and Social Impacts of Genetically Engineered Trees

It is the purpose of the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect biological diversity in all of its richness – this is also done in awareness of its importance for the functioning of vital systems such as ecosystems, climate systems and water systems. Forests include some of the world’s most important biodiversity reserves with some forest soils alone containing thousands of species. Many of these species are endemic to particular ecosystems and the fragmenting of forest ecosystems has left these species highly vulnerable to new threats. It is therefore crucial that the CBD address emerging issues such as genetically engineered (modified) trees with an eye to ensuring that forest biological diversity is in no way negatively affected.

GURTs: No Case for Field Trials

No peer-reviewed scientific data has been published on GURTs since 2000 that would alter the assessment and implications of CBD decision V/5-III, recommending that field trials not take place before ”appropriate scientific data can justify such testing”. In particular, there is an absence of:

  • Evidence that the components of GURTs (individually and in combination) perform with the degree of reliability and accuracy required for a stable and reliable GURT;
  • Evidence concerning impacts on the environment, biodiversity, and human health;
  • Evidence that v-GURTs applications to be used for bio-confinement will not allow gene flow to occur, via seed or pollen.

Unless reliable data from greenhouse trials, published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, can show the existence of a complete GURT and its reliable and stable performance, and address outstanding issues, there is no reason for Parties to the CBD to consider field trials or
case-by-case risk assessment.

V-GURTs (Terminator)

Any biological containment system setting out to prevent gene flow of transgenes via pollen and seed must be 100% reliable and effective.
At present there are a number of molecular containment strategies that aim to restrict gene flow either via pollen, seed or sprouting of vegetative organs (e.g. tubers). Such strategies include male sterility, maternal inheritance, seed sterility, prevention of sprouting, apomixis and temporal and tissue specific control.

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