Recent literature varies with respect to the categorization of forest biotechnology (e.g., Haines 1994; Yanchuk 2001; FAO 2001). Due to the gradual evolution of our understanding of genetics, and the consequent development of new tools and technologies by refining and combining new knowledge with prior research, these categories overlap to some degree. We propose five major categories, each of which can be applied to a characteristic subset of applications (see section 3, and Tables 1 and 2):
1. Markers (biochemical and molecular)
2. Propagation & multiplication
3. Genomics (functional, structural, comparative, associative, statistical)
4. Marker-aided selection & breeding
5. Genetic modification
These tools and their utility are applicable at different scales, from the individual cell or plant to the landscape level (Table 1). The only category which results in genetic manipulation of living trees is (5); although development of some markers and DNA libraries for genomics may involve transformation of bacteria in the laboratory. The impact of these biotechnologies will therefore vary with the specific use, as will the associated benefits and risks (Table 2, Arntzen et al. 2003). Certification of forest products, forest companies and lands is also potentially affected by the application of technology. There are many certification agencies around the world, and some, such as the Forest Stewardship Council, have specifically excluded genetically engineered trees from certifiability, or the land on which they grow, or other products obtained from stands containing these trees (FSC 1996). Some clonal forestry operations are certified, but most agencies have no explicit guidelines concerning genetic applications. Industrial processes which utilize genetic transformation of enzymes to chemically break down lignin in the harvested wood, e.g., pulping using enzyme digestion, have been certified on the merit that this reduces toxic chemical use and discharge. Thus, certification standards vary among agencies, countries, products, processes and applications. Public opinion regarding genetic engineering is more amenable to downstream (post-harvest) compared to upstream (pre-harvest) applications; the main cause for concern appears to be the potential for release of transgenic trees into the environment, which is only an issue for the latter (Pew Initiative 2001; Gartland et al. 2002).
Developed and developing countries have different priorities and applications for this technology (Table 2, Anonymous 2003). DNA-based applications (some markers, genomics and genetic modification) require a large initial outlay of resources, may have continuing high costs depending on the project, and entail a highly trained work force (Ritland and Ritland 2000; Industry Canada 2001). Developed nations have so far been leaders in developing and applying these technologies for a variety of purposes (breeding, commercial and conservation; public and private uses), however, it should be stated, based on the agriculture model, that barriers to the flow of capital and expertise associated with the introduction of biotechnology to new territories are virtually non-existent.
In other words, the introduction of forest biotechnology tools to developing countries could be fast as long as economic opportunities are present. Government agencies, in developed countries, typically provide much of the funding and infrastructure for the development of basic biotechnology research, however, it should be stated that research and development associated with any potential commercialization are mainly driven by the private sector. The shift of funds supporting biotechnology from the public to the private sectors requires a new way of viewing the introduction of these tools into the forest sector.
Therefore, published information indicate that the majority of known forest biotechnology activities in developing countries have been more restricted in their scope, primarily using markers and propagation, however, other tool could be introduced into the private sectors and information on the type of biotechnology application, their place of introduction and their frequency are unknown. The FAO Biotechnologies in Developing Countries (BioDeC) program (http://www.fao.org/biotech/inventory_admin/dep/default.asp) could be a useful storage system for forestry biotechnology developments.
The flow of some biotechnology through teams including partners from both affluent and developing countries, such as CAMCORE, a collaboration between the U.S.A., central and South American and central African nations, have provided increased access to these resources and tools for less wealthy regions, e.g., southeast Asia, Africa and eastern Europe.
Risk assessment is a critical application of many of these new biotechnological tools, and must, in turn, be applied to innovations as they are developed (Government of Canada 1985; Owusu 1999). Targeted gene manipulation is of key concern, both with respect to inserting and eliminating gene function. Gene flow assessments are being conducted for poplars (e.g., DiFazio et al. 1999), but much more information is required to allay public concerns and ecological hazards surrounding the potential for gene escape (Pew Initiative 2001; FAO 2002; Giles 2003). This applies to pollen and seed dispersal, as well as the ability of species to sprout via roots or stumps, become vigorous weeds, or hybridize with wild sympatric congeners (Government of Canada 1985; Crawley et al. 2001; Pilate et al. 2002; Dalton 2002; Adam 2003). Escapes and introgression of agricultural genes have been documented, as has unauthorized planting of genetically modified crop seeds, leading to assessment and regulatory problems. The relative fitness effects conferred by each novel trait must be evaluated in the environmental and genetic context of the field in order to properly assess risks (Johnson and Kirby 2001; Pilate et al. 2002; Anonymous 2003; Dalton 2003). Promoter genes and other biosensors are being investigated as means of tracking transgenic material, a necessary precondition prior to approval for field testing or deployment. Experts have widely concurred that a case-by-case examination is necessary for approval of transgenic trees (Government of Canada 1985; Heron and Kough 2001; FAO 2002; Arntzen et al. 2003).