How Changing a Trees Genes Can Change Its Size

tree genesGenetic modification is now being used to help control the height of mature trees. An article from the ScienceDaily website ( reported that forest scientists from Oregon State University have been able to successfully control the height and growth of trees which can range from as high as 50 feet to as small as a few inches. The success of the study shows that it is possible for scientists to control tree growth as well as other characteristics such as height or foliage growth or color through genetic engineering techniques.

In the said study, the OSU scientists were able to create poplar trees, which are known to grow rapidly at heights that can reach 150 feet or more, that grew to about 15 feet and even just a few inches tall after two years of growth. Some of the poplar trees grew on such a smaller scale that they became too difficult to find as they began to look like tiny "shrublets" growing among the flowers in the field site of the said study.

The OSU scientists were able to control the growth of the poplar trees by inserting certain types of genes from the model plant Arabidoposis which is a small plant belonging to the mustard family. The inserted genes were able to inhibit the action of gibberellic acids, a class of plant-specific hormones that promote the elongation of the plant cells. When these compounds are being inhibited, the plant cells do not fully lengthen, resulting in shorter and stockier plants.

All in all, the scientists were able to use seven distinct kinds of genes to create more than 160 different types of genetic modifications on the poplar trees to come up with about 600 tree varieties. All the genetic insertions aimed to decrease the action gibberellic acids on the plant cells. Although the initial studies were done on poplar, similar results should be possible with other species of trees. These new genetically modified trees can be used in a variety of ways. One obvious use for such trees would be for the ornamental plant industry as well as in agriculture.

With genetically modified dwarf trees such as these, it would be easier for landscapers to choose the appropriate trees for a certain site. Trees being used for designing city landscapes may also require that trees have a certain height, and genetically modified tree varieties in the future may have just the kind of trees needed. They can be also applied to trees such as those that have been experienced in the growing of cereals. Plants such as wheat and rice have been genetically modified successfully in order to focus the plants energy in developing seeds and fruits than in its height growth.

Another advantage of the genetically modified dwarf trees is that it is highly unlikely for them to spread that easily and become potentially invasive to the natural ecosystem. The reason for this is because dwarf trees are less likely to win over taller trees in competing for their share of sunshine especially in forests, thereby limiting their ability to spread.

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