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Biotechnology can be used to combat forest pests and diseases

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Biotechnology can be used to improve forest health, according to WVU's Stephen DiFazio.

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Biotechnology provides opportunities to restore native species that are threatened by insect pest or pathogen outbreaks. In some cases the resistant trees may be intentionally released into the wild where they could proliferate with minimal human intervention, thus raising issues that are fundamentally different from those encountered in agricultural biotechnology. More research is needed on the ability of the existing tree population to adapt and efforts to enhance resistance with biotechnology should be integrated with breeding programs for the target trees.

Stephen DiFazio
Department of Biology

“Assessing the potential efficacy and impacts of such a release is complicated by the large size, long lifespans and extensive distributions of many tree species, which complicate field testing as well as the deployment of resistance traits. Many trees are adapted to a wide range of conditions across their ranges and throughout their lifespans, so engineered resistance must be durable in the face of considerable environmental variation.”

“Simulation modeling provides a useful framework to explore different deployment scenarios, incorporating sources of uncertainty. Positive, negative, and neutral impacts can be explored in an ecosystem services framework, accommodating societal and cultural values of forests in addition to their commodity values. Finally, biotech trees should be released under an adaptive management framework, whereby intensive monitoring programs are implemented to gather data on impacts, which can then feed back to risk assessments and inform future management and regulatory decisions.”

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