Skip to main content

Biotechnology can be used to combat forest pests and diseases

Smiling man in green shirt in front of archway
Biotechnology can be used to improve forest health, according to WVU's Stephen DiFazio.
Download full-size

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
304.293.5314
spdifazio@mail.wvu.edu

“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.”

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise, or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today.

-WVU-

am/ck/01/10/19

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter