End of live GM tree field trial at Scion - The Science continues

9 June 2008

The chainsaws were out today at the site of Crown Research Institute Scion’s genetically modified (GM) Pinus radiata field trial, only this time the trees’ destruction was being celebrated by everyone involved.

All 55 genetically modified and control trees were felled in the presence of local Kaumatua and Rangatira George Mutu, Scion staff and management.

Scion will be conducting further environmental impacts research on the decomposing material, which has now been scientifically grouped inside the secure field trial site.

The research will look specifically into the differences that exist, if any, in microbial and insect communities around the material from genetically modified trees and the control trees.

Scion Chief Executive Dr Tom Richardson says the felling of the trees was conducted in accordance with ERMA controls and with the involvement of local Maori, ensuring both the validity of the ongoing research and the acceptance of the Tangata Whenua.   

“From the outset of this field trial, Scion has been in close consultation with local iwi to ensure our research was conducted in an acceptable way. Before the trees were planted, the site was blessed by the late Kaumatua and Rangatira Eria Moke, who supported our activity.

“We therefore felt it appropriate that the Tangata Whenua be a part of this milestone in the life of the Whenua, the land, by ensuring they were both represented and involved in this process.”

Scion recently celebrated the success of the trial following the final data collection from the live trees.

Dr Richardson says: “The primary objective of this experiment has always been to provide valid, scientific information on environmental impacts, information that can contribute to the ongoing discussion regarding the use of genetic modification technologies in New Zealand.

“This trial has been hugely successful as we have collected all the data that we intended to collect and meaningful results have been obtained on gene expression stability, horizontal gene transfer and the impact of genetically modified pine on insects and micro-organisms.”

Results to date show:
  • No evidence of the modified genes having transferred to other organisms.
  • No evidence of detrimental impact on insect diversity by the genetically modified pine.
  • No evidence of impacts on the microorganism populations that live in close association with the pine roots.
  • The expression of introduced genes is stable over several years.

The five-year live tree field trial ended as scheduled with the eight-year old pine trees having reached an age where they could become reproductive and produce heritable material.

“The trial was designed in such a way that the environmental risk assessments would be completed after five years, and risk assessments were the primary objective of the experiment,” says Dr Richardson.

 The site will continue to be monitored by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), whose role it is to ensure the trial complies with the standards set out by ERMA.