Scion’s application to grow genetically modified pine trees approved

15 December 2010

Crown Research Institute Scion welcomes the Environmental Risk Management Authority’s decision to approve, with controls, its application to field test genetically modified radiata pine (Pinus radiata) in outdoor containment.

“Scion’s role for New Zealand is to scientifically assess the commercial potential of new technologies for forestry. Our application was a logical extension of the research we are currently conducting under previous approvals,” says Group Manager Bioproduct Development Elspeth MacRae.

Field trials are designed to provide proof of concept in a contained outdoor site that is similar to a natural forestry setting.  They are an intermediate stage between the production of genetically modified trees in the laboratory and commercial forest plantation.

“This approval allows our researchers to test genes for a range of traits that, if successful in the trials, may be used in the future to produce improved pine trees.

“We will be assessing traits that have the potential to directly benefit the forestry industry, such as wood density and stability, tree growth, biomass utilisation and reproductive development. Also, we will continue to check relevant environmental impacts during the trials,” says Dr MacRae.

The approved application permits Scion to plant genetically modified Pinus radiata in a series of experiments over a 25-year period. Planting can only occur in a 4-hectare field test site on Scion’s Rotorua campus. The trees growing on the field test site must be killed by being cut down when they reach 8 years of age or as soon as they begin to develop reproductive structures.

No pollen or seed will result from the field tests because ERMA’s controls require frequent inspections to identify male catkins or female cones soon after they begin to form. These immature structures must be removed within 24 hours of their detection and then destroyed.

“This approval allows us to continue the research necessary for New Zealand to make pragmatic decisions on the use of genetic options in the future.”

“Scion has an excellent proven track record in field trials of genetically modified trees for the last 14 years, and we have a sound publication record listed on our website,” says Dr MacRae.

Further information on Scion’s genetic modification research is available at and ERMA’s full decision is available at