Scientists Bio-engineer Trees to Absorb Environmental Poisons

From The Daily Galaxy:

Scientists have made a strange mutant using rabbit genes to create trees that “eat” environmental poisons—specifically many that are known to potentially cause cancer. The transgenic poplars created at the University of Washington are able to quickly neutralize toxins. These “super trees” suck up and destroy harmful chemicals from the air and water they come in contact with.

The scientists found that by adding a rabbit gene into poplar trees, the mutant trees become dramatically more efficient at eliminating at least a dozen kinds of pollutants commonly found on poisoned properties.

It is expected that these trees could prevent the need for digging up tons of soil or pumping out millions of gallons of water for treatment and disposal. They render a list of cancer-causing pollutants such benzene, trichloroethylene (TCE), vinyl chloride, and chloroform completely non-toxic. The poplars could be and obvious benefit towards cleanup projects.

Even so, they raise a multitude of concerns. Some people are worried about transgenic organisms, in which a gene from one species is inserted into another. The most common concern is that mutant plants could spread, entering the food supply and possibly pose a threat to human health. Or they could interbreed with normal plants. At this point, no one can accurately predict all of the potential side effects of a new gene on it’s host and how it could possibly effect the environment.

When it comes to the pollution-consuming poplars, “it’s really a question of trading some of the unknown risks of planting genetically modified trees with the positive environmental benefits,” said Andrew Light, a UW professor of philosophy and public affairs. “This is a real dilemma for the environmental community.”

In the UW project, a gene from a rabbit is added to the poplar’s DNA. The gene contains the instructions for an enzyme that breaks down pollutants. A very similar enzyme naturally exists in the plant, but scientists have not been able to isolate the poplar’s version in order to boost its production.

“It’s a beautiful thing that a rabbit gene is perfectly readable by a plant. Look at how connected life is,” said Sharon Doty, a professor with the UW’s College of Forest Resources. She’s the lead author of the poplar research published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” she said. “I don’t think it’s something to fear.”

But others aren’t so sure if it’s a beautiful thing, or if it’s an abhorrent freak of nature.

“It’s commendable to be thinking about finding ways to reverse some of the pollution that has been caused in the past, but in doing so we have to make sure we don’t cause new problems at the same time,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a Washington, D.C.-based senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Rabbit DNA ay? I have a rabbit at home that is a family pet.

I keep having visions of these trees sprouting long furry ears for leaves and powder puff tails down near the roots. And buck-teeth in the knotholes. *cold shivers*

Of course I’m kidding. But I wonder if you have to include carrots in the compost when these trees start out as saplings? 😎

Rest of article…


10 responses

  1. I’d really be concerned if I walked by one of these trees in a forest and I hear a voice say, “Aay, whutzup doc!”


  2. “It’s a beautiful thing,” she said. “I don’t think it’s something to fear.”

    Didn’t Frankenstein say something like that, too?

    Oh well… he didn’t know about DNA or Carbon 14, either!

    Or did he…?

  3. Oh, don’t get me wrong… I appreciate science! After all, I wouldn’t have my gas-guzzling, Kyoto-cruiser to tool around in on my many needless jaunts around town, when walking would be the environmentally friendly thing to do – and, of course, the politically-correct thing to do!

    Nope. Science is a good thing.


  4. On the surface this sounds pretty good. What blows my mind is how did they determined a rabbit gene would accomplish this?

  5. UH: How about walking just for the hell of it and fitness?
    I’d do it just to get the hell away from people! (w-i-f-e, shhh!)
    Other than the fact I can’t drive legally! 😉

    Mirthy: The article doesn’t state how they identified a rabbit gene that when spliced with a tree gene it will get the desired effect.
    I know that gengineers (genetic engineers) have routinely spliced animal and plant genes for years now.

    I did some research years ago when I was taking a microbiology class in college about pine trees being specifically gengineered to absorb excess CO2 and convert it more quickly into O2.

    But I could never find out what gene they were using to splice.

  6. All plants absorb CO2 and produce oxygen. Besides, CO2 levels do not increase warming, conversely, they rise due to temperature increases, mostly from natural causes, i.e. environmental and solar cycles, etc. That’s the other side of the argument you don’t get to hear over all of the politically-correct hoopla.

    One says yea, one says nay. Whom shall we believe… politicians? Scientists under UN (elitist) auspices? Hell, they can’t get us to believe them even when they tell us they’re lying!

    No, I love people, Marine! I don’t want to get away from them, they’re fascinating creatures… I mean, products of evolutionary, spontaneous chemical reactions… I mean, alien DNA insertions… I… I… I need a drink!


  7. But Al Gore said global warming’s a fact, so it is. He doesn’t lie, just like Nancy Pelosi doesn’t… didn’t… whatever.

    Time for another bath…

  8. You’re bad!

    Just for that, you have to plant a whole bunch of rabbit-poplars around your house. And then feed the saplings their carrot compost!

    And don’t forget to water them with your old bath water. 😎

  9. I am bad, no doubt about it! (And clean, too!)

    Word to the ladies!


  10. Rabbit genes in the poplar trees? ): They are growing those things about 10 miles from here in Independence OR and Tyco Industries has been putting sewer sludge on them for years to get rid of their toxic waste. I didn’t know at the time, but they have been doing experiments in different parts of the country doing the same thing, and they are a client of
    Applied Natural Sciences, who is the leading provider of plant-based technologies for the remediation of soil
    and ground water. As a pioneer in the emerging field of phytoremediation and natural biorestoration,
    Dr. Gatliff first applied phytoremediation technology on a commercial basis in 1988 and is the only
    firm to successfully remediate ground water at depths greater than five feet.

    What they aren’t talking about is that the leaves on the trees transpire some of the toxins, and retain toxins that still have to be dealt with. I smell the smoking shotgun of the monkey that is always involved in all this Bu$h*t…G:

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