Poplars in biotechnology research
H. Marchadier and P. Sigaud
Héliette Marchadier, a recent university graduate, prepared this contribution while volunteering for six months in the Forest Resources Development Service, FAO Forestry Department, Rome, prior to continuing her studies.
Populus is the most widely used forest tree genus in genetic modification studies and the second most used in biotechnology research overall.
Biotechnology encompasses a wide range of scientific techniques that use living organisms or parts of them. Modern biotechnologies currently used in forestry fall broadly into three categories:
Poplar is regarded as a model tree in forest genetics and biotechnology studies in temperate and boreal regions because of its rapid growth, its vegetative propagation capacities (many varieties can be reproduced easily by cloning), experience gained in conventional poplar breeding and cultivation, and its known genomic structure which offers genetic engineering opportunities. The first forest tree species for which the complete genome was sequenced was a poplar; this work was completed in 2004 (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 2004; JGI, 2004).
Between 1994 and 2004 Populus was the second most used tree genus in biotechnology studies in general (after Pinus) and by far the most used in genetic modification worldwide.
Poplar is the only genetically modified (GM) forest tree that has been commercially deployed; the State Forestry Administration of China approved commercial plantation of GM poplars in 2002, and by the end of that year more than 1.4 million insect-resistant GM poplars had reportedly been planted in China.
The graphics and statistics in this article are all based on the number of activities (ongoing or concluded, and irrespective of cost, project size or area of trials) reported in the international scientific literature, including data sets, published from 1994 to 2004 (FAO, 2004).
FAO. 2004. Preliminary review of biotechnology in forestry, including genetic modification. Forest Genetic Resources Working Paper FGR/59E. Rome. Available at: www.fao.org/docrep/008/ae574e/ae574e00.htm
Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 2004. International Populus Genome Consortium – creating a genetic resource for the plant science community. Available at: www.ornl.gov/sci/ipgc/home.htm
Joint Genome Institute (JGI). 2004. Populus trichocarpa v.1.0. Available at: genome.jgi-psf.org/Poptr1/Poptr1.home.html