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January 12, 2002


Leave Science to Scientists; Melchett Quits Greenpeace;


Today in AgBioView - Weekender II

* Biotechnology: Leave Science to the Scientists
* Melchett Forced out of Greenpeace over his PR job
* Genetic Method to Delay Ripening
* High-technology Edibles for the 21st Century
* The Stuff of the Euro
* The Ethics of Food: A Reader for the Twenty-First Century
* Genetics Exhibit Opens in Chicago
* Unintended Consequences
* The Test Tube Forest

Biotechnology: Leave Science to the Scientists

- Dean Kleckner, Truth About Trade and Technology (Forwarded by "Mary
J Boote" )

Few people know it, but the great outdoors photographer Ansel Adams
was also an accomplished pianist. During one private concert,
however, he had trouble keeping his left hand in time with his right
one. "I went through the entire nocturne with the hands separated by
a half step," he recalled. The next day, someone in the audience
rated his performance: "You never missed a wrong note!"

The enemies of biotechnology seem to have the same problem--they
never miss a wrong note, either. At least Adams was afflicted for
only a single evening. Biotechnology's foes seem to suffer from a
chronic condition.

The latest example of their foolishness comes from Trader Joe's, a
grocery-store chain that now owns the dubious distinction of being
the first and only major retailer to announce that it won't stock
food containing modified genes. The ban affects nearly 200 stores in
15 states.

This decision is a cowardly surrender to the fear tactics of radical
activists. The Trader Joe's plan has absolutely nothing to do with
science, and that's because it can't have anything to do with
science. There isn't a single shred of scientific evidence suggesting
that genetically modified food poses a health risk to anybody.
Instead, there is a mountain of proof showing that it's perfectly
safe to eat. We do it everyday without even noticing. If you ate corn
flakes for breakfast this morning, you probably did it, too.

The shift in policy at Trader Joe's isn't based on science or
health--it's based entirely on politics. The militant group
Greenpeace has organized protestors outside individual Trader Joe's
stores and spread lies about the latest innovations in agriculture.
Trader Joe's should have responded in positive ways, such as
distributing facts about genetically modified food to confused
consumers or at least demanding that the picketers clear the parking
lot of shopping carts. Instead, it caved in to the "guerilla-theater
antics" of a few radical activists.

Say this much for Greenpeace, they chose their target well. Trader
Joe's has become a case study in spinelessness and appeasement, which
is exactly what the protestors wanted. Private businesses are free to
do as they please, of course, even if it means depriving customers of
safe food sold at fair prices. But it would be an enormous mistake
for any other grocery store to follow in Trader Joe's footsteps by
giving in to extremists who apply political pressure and peddle junk

Yet Trader Joe's is not the only enterprise that insists on missing
the wrong notes. Another one is the clothing manufacturer Patagonia,
which has announced that it won't purchase a pioneering product that
promises a cleaner environment--all because of unfounded fears about
genetically modified crops.

The product in dispute is called PLA, and it's a plastic that relies
on corn rather than petroleum. That may sound like a 21st-century
version of the alchemist's dream of turning lead into gold, but it's
really happening in Blair, Nebraska. A plant that opened there in
November will manufacture 300 million pounds of PLA over the next
year, which will wind up in everything from clothing to carpets to
candy wrap.

This is a wonderful alternative to petroleum-based plastic--and
something that all of us who are concerned about the environment
should celebrate. As an article in Forbes magazine recently noted,
the Nebraska plant turns out "a plastic made from renewable
resources, requires 20 percent to 50 percent less energy to produce,
and composts into harmless carbon dioxide and dirt."

Yet Patagonia insists--incomprehensibly--that PLA is bad for the
environment because some of the corn it uses is genetically modified.
This is ridiculous. Genetically modified crops already increase the
productivity of farmland, which is something true environmentalists
appreciate. The idea that they may also lead to a cleaner source of
plastic is an added benefit--and one that those of us who want both a
healthy economy and a healthy environment ought to embrace.

At least Ansel Adams stuck with what he did best - - taking
unforgettable black-and-white photos of nature's beauty. Trader Joe's
and Patagonia should stick with what they know best, too, which is
selling food and clothes rather than playing politics. They should
leave the science to the scientists, who are telling us unanimously
that genetically modified crops are a welcome innovation.
Dean Kleckner is Chairman of Truth About Trade and Technology, a
national grassroots organization based in Des Moines, IA formed by
farmers to promote expanded free trade and advancements in
agricultural biotechnology.


Melchett Forced out of Greenpeace over his PR job

- Marie Woolf, January 12, 2002. The Independent

Lord Melchett, the leading environmental campaigner, was yesterday
forced to cut his links with Greenpeace after taking a job with a
public relations firm whose clients include Monsanto, the GM food
company. The former Labour minister was asked to step down from the
board of Greenpeace International - the organisation's worldwide
governing body - because colleagues feared his association with
Burson-Marsteller could damage its global reputation.

Lord Melchett was told by board members his new role could be in,
conflict with our principles and campaign goals. Burson-Marsteller's
clients have included the Exxon Corporation, after the disastrous
Exxon Valdez oil spillage in Alaska, and Union Carbide, the US
company which in 1984 leaked more than 40 tons of toxic gas in
Bhopal, India, killing 2,000 people. The company has also acted for
Babcock and Wilcox, whose reactor failed at Three Mile Island,
creating the United States' worst nuclear accident. Lord Melchett
agreed to resign the position he has held since April after a series
of long-distance calls with other members of the board. Peter now
seems to recognise that there may be some conflict of interest in
what he is doing, said a spokesman for Greenpeace UK.

Lord Melchett starts work next week with the PR firm after he gained
the permission of the head of Greenpeace UK to accept the job. He was
unavailable for comment yesterday but told The Independent earlier in
the week his new role would not compromise his hard-line stance
against GM crops and pollution. Lord Melchett became a board member
of Greenpeace International in April last year after stepping down as
executive director of Greenpeace, a post he had held since 1989. He
had been chairman of Greenpeace since 1986. The campaigner raised
Greenpeace to fresh prominence when he ripped up a field of GM crops.


Genetic Method to Delay Ripening

- The Hindu (India), Jan 10, 2002

Indian scientists have isolated a gene part, called promoter, from
the tomato plant and hope to use it in modified form for delaying
fruit ripening. This technology can be extended to several perishable
fruits and vegetables.

Almost 20 per cent of all perishable fruit and vegetables are lost
due to rotting, as cold storage and refrigerated transport facilities
are inadequate in India, according to Dr. Kailash Bansal, Principal
Scientist at Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), the
institute which accomplished the task.

This genetic technology would help in reducing post harvest losses
caused by rotting, he said, by giving plants an inherent capacity to
delay ripening. He added that, though non-genetic methods to delay
ripening do exist, these are not feasible on a large scale. As the
movement of tomatoes is hampered, at present export is negligible.
The new technology, called antisense RNA technology, involves
blocking the pathway by which a ripening hormone called ethylene is
produced by plants.

For this, researchers have recently isolated a promoter which is
needed for functioning of the gene that produces an enzyme called ACC
synthase. This enzyme is required in an important step for ethylene
synthesis. The ACC synthase producing gene was isolated about two
years ago. Antisense RNA technology involves introduction of the gene
and its promoter in reverse form in tomato plant cells. The product
of the reverse gene blocks the product of the normal gene, thus
preventing production of ACC synthase enzyme.

However, not all the products of normal gene are blocked and some
amount of enzyme is still produced. As ethylene is not produced in
sufficient quantity, ripening does not take place at normal rate and
is slowed down. One problem in this process is that, as the gene is
introduced using a bacterium (agrobacterium), a bacterial gene which
is responsible for antibiotic resistance is transferred in plant

Though this gene does not have any effect on humans, efforts are on
to find other bacterial markers. The technology has an advantage over
the methods now used, like early plucking of tomatoes, as tomato
fruits do not ripen at the same time and need plucking three-four
times in a year. The new technology, which can be extended to mangoes
and bananas, would prove to be economical and give plant uniformity
in terms of ripening. It would also make fruits tastier and enhance
their nutrient content by allowing them to be on plants for a longer


High-technology Edibles for the 21st Century

BusinessWorld (Philippines) via NewsEdge Corporation. Jan 7, 2002

Imagine a banana loaded with a vaccine for Hepatitis B. Or rice
enriched with Vitamin A. Perhaps, mangoes that ripen in two months,
or maybe corn that is resistant to insects without needing
insecticides. Farfetched? Not really.

Biotechnology has made man's musings a century ago a reality today.
Modern biotechnology is any biology-based technology that uses
organisms or their parents to make or modify products or improve
plants, animals and microorganisms. It applies scientific advances as
plant tissue and cell culture, genetic engineering or gene transfer
to modify gene fragments of the same, related, or unrelated species
to produce now traits in an organism.

In the Philippines, scientists at the Institute of Plant Breeding
(IPB) at the University of the Philippines Los Banos have long been
doing researches on some major crops for export to improve the
plants' breed and enhance their breeding procedures. These crops
include mango, banana, papaya, abaca and coconut.

Dr. Evelyn Mae Tecson Mendoza, IPB program leader, said the
researches were aimed at increasing the crops' yield ceilings, making
them more resistant to pests and diseases and enhancing the crop's
nutritional, processing and storage qualities, using tissue and cell
culture, marker technologies and transgenics or genetic engineering.

Tissue and cell culture techniques are used for micropropagation, in
vitro gene banking, disease-elimination and generic engineering
process, among others. IPB is also into marker technologies or
diagnostics. Using DNA or proteins, this technology is used to tag
important traits to improve the selection efficiency in plant
breeding by marker assisted selection; identify markers and develop
diagnostics for varietal/pathogen/pest identification; and determine
genetic diversity of plants, pathogens and pests.

The third area that IPB focuses on is transgenics or genetic
engineering, which allows the specific transfer of important genes.
Through marker technologies, IPB was able to identify protein markers
for varieties of rambutan through a technique using protein isozymes
on the young seedling stage of the plants.

"There are supsupin and tuklapin varieties. Some people like tuklapin
more than supsupin, so there is a premium for the tuklapin seedling.
The technique allows us to accredit nurseries and to say definitively
that this is tuklapin or this is supsupin using these markers," Ms.
Mendoza said. Using the marker technology, IPB was also able to
differentiate the cultivars of coconut seed nuts. "The advantage of
identifying the coconut seed nut is that the farmer would be able to
determine the type of coconut he wants. Since coconut seeds are also
costly, this would save the planter money, time and effort," Ms.
Mendoza said.

IPB was also able to develop an immunological test kit that screens
the presence of the ratoon-stunting disease of sugarcane. "Even
before the seed pieces of sugar cane are planted, they can already
determine if it's diseased or free from disease. That saves the sugar
planter a lot of effort," Ms. Mendoza said. The researches, however,
are yet to be field-tested.

Using genetic engineering, IPB is now developing a variety of papaya
and mango with delayed ripening trait, papaya with papaya ring spot
virus resistance, banana with resistance to bunchy top virus, coconut
with modified fatty acid composition and corn with resistance to corn
borer. Ms. Mendoza said IPB's initial projects were to develop
papayas and mangoes with delayed ripening trait so as to prolong
their shelf life, "to export papaya and mango to more distant
places." This trait would also lessen food wastage.

Coconut, one of the country's major exports, is likewise being
enhanced. A coconut variety that can produce more C12 or lauric acid,
a component of the oil. This is used for many purposes, among them,
as ingredients for detergents, shampoo and soap. "Lauric acid now has
a competitor, the transgenically derived canola oil, lauricole," Ms.
Mendoza said. While studies have shown GM (genetically modified)
crops have contributed to reduced usage of pesticides, reduced soil
erosion, higher and more stable yields and better quality crops, the
issue over the safety of GM crops for human intake and for the
environment persists.

Ms. Mendoza however, allayed such fears. "Before a GM crop becomes
commercially available, it goes through a series of testing. It is
heavily regulated from research and development to commercialization.
Safety aspects are addressed in the laboratory: the safety aspects in
and outside the laboratory are taken care of. All GM crops, like Bt
Corn, herbicide- tolerant soybean, herbicide-tolerant corn,
herbicide-tolerant potato, these all went through very rigid
regulation for biosafety to environment and safety to man," Ms.
Mendoza said.

She said the potentials of plant biotechnology in the Philippines can
be further explored through the help of the private sector,
especially the food industry. Ms. Mendoza was one of the presentors
at the week's MindLink II: Industry-Academe Conference Biotechnology,
at the APEC Center in UP Los Banos.


The Stuff of the Euro

Oliver Rautenberg & Gabriele Sachse, January 11, 2002 www.Bio-Scope.org

At precisely 12:00 midnight on New Year's Eve a brightly shining Euro
symbol appeared in the sky over the Acropolis in Athens, heralding
the dawn of a new age for the ancient European financial world. Every
generation was caught up in the wave of "Europhoria", from Grandpa
and Grandma to great-grandchildren all over the continent. There was
hardly a soul who didn't have fresh, new Euros in their pocket or

Virtually overnight, Euro-sceptics who had withstood the multimedia
Euro-land campaigns bolstered by heavy firepower from banks,
retailers and such Euro-ambassadors as Sir Peter Ustinov and Verona
Feldbusch, braving the onslaught like the inhabitants of a tiny
Gallic village fighting off the Roman hordes, fell in love with the
new currency. Fatalists in every Euro country are now firmly
convinced: The Euro is stable, the Euro is good, the Euro is secure.
And the banknotes, with their holograms, their raised architectural
motifs and their silver and pearly-golden foil strips are not only
crisp and new, they also have a completely different feel than the
familiar old bills. Which should come as no surprise, since they are
made of pure cotton - the material ordinarily used to make jeans.

Cotton? Now there's something likely to make those who have followed
the debate on green biotechnology in Euro-land stop and think. A
white spot on the European environmental safety map? After all,
cotton is one of the most beloved objects of major agro-biotech
companies, and they have come up with a truly brilliant idea: the
addition of a single gene to the new gene-tech varieties, and hungry
caterpillars drop from the plants like flies. Sixteen per cent of the
33 million hectares on which cotton is now grown world-wide are
already pest-resistant. That means lower insecticide use and higher
yields, facts even the most stubborn critics cannot ignore. Good for
cotton, good for farmers, and good for the seed industry, but what
about the Euro-consumer? For statistically speaking, one out of every
six of the billions of Euro banknotes in circulation is genetically
altered. Has genetic engineering invaded the ATM?!

Somehow, this all has the smell of a high-level conspiracy, a crafty
manoeuvre by a political-industrial alliance that is now clearing the
way for biotech globalisation once and for all without regard for
voters' - pardon - people's interests. Environmental organisations
have long suspected cotton of being a secret weapon in the campaign
for acceptance. "Since consumer resistance is focused primarily on
genetically engineered food, there is reason to fear that transgenic
cotton will establish itself on a grand scale", as a WWF official in
Switzerland recently complained before demanding a blanket labelling
requirement for products made of genetically engineered cotton. Fine.
Switzerland has nothing to do with the Euro anyway, and the Swiss
franc is certainly not contaminated.

The Euro is not exactly a food staple, and not even a Europe-wide
appeal to consumers to swallow Euro banknotes in order to stave off
looming inflation will change that. Yet little children will
occasionally stick bills in their mouths, and most of us are likely
to lick our fingers absent-mindedly after handling money at one time
or another . . . So in addition to all the other security features,
we are simply going to have to put a label on the Euro: "Made of
transgenic cotton" - easily readable, in 3-D and in bright colours,
if possible. Otherwise we'll soon have safety-suited Greenpeace
activists in front of banks and ATM's waving signs reading "Caution:
Genetech inside!"

Perhaps this is all an exaggerated panic action. One of the authors
is a journalist, after all. And it could be that Euro banknotes are
actually made of organically grown cotton. But those who produced the
cotton paper have been reluctant to say, one way or the other. For
safety's sake, lovers of the Euro had best take our well-meaning
advice in the spirit of "precautionary principle . . .": Either
emigrate to Switzerland or follow Uncle Scrooge's example - build
vaults and horde coins. At least until scientists have proven beyond
a doubt that the consumption of Euros is not unhealthy. But who knows
what new surprises await us in the meantime? Perhaps a little courage
in the face of the genetech risk instead? For the day we realise that
the new banknotes in our wallets really won't bite us in the behind,
we will come to love the Euro again, just as we did on the very first

- Happy New Year! Your Bio-Scope team


The Ethics of Food: A Reader for the Twenty-First Century

Edited by Gregory E. Pence, Rowman & Littlefield Pub, Inc.
$70.00 Cloth 0-7425-1333-5; $27.95 Paper 0-7425-1334-3; Feb 28, 2002,

Food makes philosophers of us all. Death does the same . . . but
death comes only once . . . and choices about food come many times
each day. In The Ethics of Food, Gregory E. Pence brings together a
collection of voices who share the view that the ethics of
genetically modified food is among the most pressing societal
questions of our time. This comprehensive collection addresses a
broad range of subjects, including the meaning of food, moral
analyses of vegetarianism and starvation, the safety and
environmental risks of genetically modified food, issues of global
food politics and the food industry, and the relationships among
food, evolution, and human history. Will genetically modified food
feed the poor or destroy the environment? Is it a threat to our
health? Is the assumed healthfulness of organic food a myth or a
reality? The answers to these and other questions are engagingly
pursued in this substantive collection, the first of its kind to
address the broad range of philosophical, sociological, political,
scientific, and technological issues surrounding the ethics of food.

List of Contributors: Ronald Bailey; Wendell Berry; Norman Borlaug;
M. F. K. Fisher; Nichols Fox; Greenpeace International; Garrett
Hardin; Mae-Wan Ho; Marc Lappe and Britt Bailey; Tanya Maxted-Frost;
Henry I. Miller; Helen Norberg-Hodge; Stuart Patton; Gregory E.
Pence; C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer; Vandana Shiva; Peter
Singer; Anthony J. Trewavas; and the U.S. Food and Drug

About The Author: Gregory E. Pence is a medical ethicist with twenty
years of experience reviewing significant cases in bioethics, and is
professor in the School of Medicine and the Department of Philosophy
at the University of Alabama. Pence has contributed to theNew York
Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and the Journal of the American
Medical Association. He is the author of Classical Cases in Medical
Ethics: Accounts of the Cases that Shaped Medical Ethics, 3rd edition
(2000) and Who's Afraid of Human Cloning? (1998).

"Finally, we have a book that speaks to one of the most pressing,
though under-examined, issues in our biotech age. Greg Pence has
produced, again, a stimulating and timely text. Crisp and
comprehensive in its approach, The Ethics of Food takes stock of the
morally imperative questions surrounding food production,
modification, and consumption, particularly their global impact upon
ecosystems. The text offers a judicious menu of readings that
articulate differing perspectives from various fields. Combining
scholarship and access, this pioneering work insightfully underscores
the ongoing tension between food biotechnologies and biodiversity,
compelling us to move toward reasonable resolutions."-Michael
Brannigan, executive director, Center for the Study of Ethics, La
Roche College

"The issue of genetically modified food (GMF) is creating an
hysterical anti-scientific phobia in Europe, and it threatens to
create a similar furor in the U.S.A., as deep ecologists and
naturalists like Jeremy Rifkin frighten the public about the dangers
of GMF. In The Ethics of Food, Pence offers an impartial,
philosophical examination of the issues that is well-researched and
well-argued. The work is a significant contribution to the fields of
biological and agricultural ethics . . . and a true pleasure to
read."-Louis Pojman, US Military Academy at West Point


Genetics Exhibit Opens in Chicago

- AP, CNN.com

Preview this exhibit (with multimedia clips) at

Chicago, Illinois (AP) -- Visitors to a new genetics exhibit can
explore the mysteries of DNA, witness a virtual human embryo in
action and gaze at cloned mice, mutant flies and hatching chicks.
"Genetics: Decoding Life" opened Friday at the Museum of Science and
Industry, providing a rare glimpse into the burgeoning field. The
exhibit is being billed as the nation's first permanent genetics
exhibit. Organizers hope the exhibit will stir debate about issues
such as cloning and genetically modified foods while answering
questions about what causes birth defects and diseases.

"We want the public to have a very memorable, fun experience at the
museum and get the basics of what is going on in genetics," said
Barry Aprison, the museum's director of science and technology. "We
want them to take away some information about what genes and DNA are.
"Then when they hear about or see things on the news, perhaps
they'll follow up and be more interested in learning more about some
of the tough issues that surround the science."

Visitors can stroll through the "Iris Garden," which shows the unique
characteristics of their eyes' irises and lets them compare them with
other people's irises. And a virtual human embryo exhibit allows them
to watch the development of a human by activating the correct
sequence of genes. They also can watch chicks hatch and participate
in a hands-on exhibit that lets them dive into one of their own cells
to discover their bodies' genetic mysteries. Then there's the
genetically modified green-eyed frogs. The amphibians lounging in a
pool of water at the exhibit were altered with a jellyfish gene
programmed to "turn on" only in the nucleus of their eyes.

Practical application: Such experiments provide a tool for scientists
to "study about how genes normally function and then provide
information about what happens when they don't function correctly,"
Aprison said. "That has implications for understanding changes like
aging or illness, and these are just some very basic questions about
how we live our lives and how we can stay healthy," he said. But
genetic modification also has implications for people who might
someday want to "customize" their children. Such exhibits give the
public a chance to vote on how they feel about such science.

The exhibits are not an attempt to sway public opinion, said Patricia
Ward, a museum scientist and one of the exhibit's developers. "We
want to give people the groundwork of what that science is all about
so they can then go on and think more carefully about what they think
about these issues, rather than us present what we think about it."
The museum has been planning the exhibit for about five years, but
Aprison said it's never been more timely.

"Genetics is the revolution that will be changing our lives starting
today," he said. "This is going to revolutionize medicine and change


Unintended Consequences

by Deepak Lal, MIT Press, Nov 1998. Amazon.com price $45. Hard Cover

Lal takes his readers on a breathtaking gallop through the history of
the world's major civilizations to discover the determinants of
economic progress and explain how eighteenth-century Western Europe
came to dominate the world economy... Lal also offers an especially
provocative analysis of the origins and viability of the modern
welfare state, finding it a politically understandable but
unsatisfactory substitute for the more effective private charity
found in most organized societies.": Foreign Affairs. Named one of
the 12 "Year's Best Books About Asia" by Asia Pacific Media News

Book Description: In this book, based on the 1995 Ohlin Lectures,
Deepak Lal provides an accessible, interdisciplinary account of the
role of culture in shaping economic performance. Topics addressed
include a possible future "clash of civilizations," the role of Asian
values in the East Asian economic miracle, the cultural versus
economic causes of social decay in the West, and whether
modernization leads to Westernization. Lal makes an important
distinction between material and cosmological beliefs, showing how
both were initially shaped by factor endowments and how they have
evolved in response to changing historical pressures in different

Lal's first major theme is the interaction of factor endowments,
culture, and politics in explaining modern intensive growth in the
West. The other major theme is the role of individualism--an
inadvertent legacy of the medieval Catholic Church--in promoting this
growth, and the strange metamorphoses this has caused in both the
West's cosmological beliefs and the interaction between "the West and
the rest." Lal takes account of the relevant literature in history,
anthropology, social psychology, evolutionary biology, neurology, and
sociology, and the economic history of the regions and cultures that
form Eurasia. An appendix shows how the stories Lal tells can be
described by four formal economic models.
Deepak Lal is the James S. Coleman Professor of International
Development Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.


The Test Tube Forest

- Charles C. Mann , Business 2.0; February 2002

'Scientists are rapidly developing technology for genetically
engineering fast-growing supertrees. The economic advantages for
timber companies seem clear. The environmental repercussions are less

Tucked within a nondescript industrial park outside Victoria, British
Columbia, CellFor Inc. occupies two almost windowless cement-block
buildings with shuttered loading-dock doors. It is a determinedly
drab exterior, one that offers no hint of the radical work under way
inside. There, white-coated technicians pore over microscopes amid an
array of incubator-like machines, steel racks of petri dishes, and
jiggling, vaguely robotic mixers, all part of a biotechnological
assembly line that by this spring will be producing tens of thousands
of cloned embryos a day. Pressed by the thousand into cakes or
resting like green-brown dots on petri dishes, these are not human
embryos, but something nearly as scientifically exotic and, to many
people, almost as dismaying: tree embryos. Not just any tree, but
Douglas fir, the emperor of the forest, a species that grows 200 feet
tall and blankets much of the Pacific Northwest. CellFor has
developed techniques that mass-replicate exact genetic copies of some
of the finest Douglas fir specimens ever found in the wild, trees
coveted by timber companies for their straight, strong, knot-free
wood. "These are some of the best, fastest-growing trees in the
world," CellFor president Christopher Worthy says of his progeny.
"What happens when you plant these trees is strikingly different from
what happens when you plant ordinary, unimproved trees."

A new age of bioengineered forestry is dawning, and it promises to
completely remake the $750-billion-a-year global forestry business --
and, with it, landscapes all over the world. Already, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture has received applications to test 138 types
of genetically modified trees. Within the next few years, many forest
researchers believe, companies will be totally revamping arboreal
genomes, creating wholly new kinds of trees -- short, fat, almost
branchless -- that will look nothing like the pines and birches in
suburban backyards. Cloned into intensely managed timber plantations,
these novel organisms, proponents argue, could lead to a rare win-win
situation for business and the environment, bolstering the logging
industry's thin profit margins even as they provide new opportunities
for conserving biodiversity in the world's remaining wild forests.

Some scientists see even greater prospects. Forest biotechnology,
they predict, will ultimately transform such disparate industries as
housing and fuel; some even suggest that this technology may help
humankind colonize Mars. "Genetically engineered trees could produce
gasoline or alcohol or almost any other chemical from sunlight," says
Freeman Dyson, a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced
Study in Princeton, N.J. "Think of tapping trees for chemicals the
way you tap them for maple syrup -- the possibilities are marvelous."

Given such enthusiasm, you might think that pioneers like CellFor
would be eager to advertise their role in the breakthroughs that are
leading the way for bioforestry. But there's no CellFor sign outside
its offices or on its door, and its address is not in the phone book
or printed on executive business cards. One reason for the secrecy is
that the firm's cloning techniques are still under development.
Another is that a fair number of people are dead set against the
advent of genetically enhanced trees -- "Franken-trees," in the
parlance of the critics. They contend that bioforestry has as much
potential for environmental mayhem as for environmental good. Their
opposition could slow or even block the advance of bioforestry. And
some of them have been known to firebomb facilities where CellFor's
kind of research takes place.

High-tech trees? Why on earth would you fool with trees? These are
familiar questions to Toby Bradshaw, a cheerful, burly plant
geneticist at the University of Washington in Seattle. To illustrate
the answer, he keeps a dried stalk of teosinte in a desk drawer.
Teosinte is a waist-high plant from central Mexico. It has an
inch-long, wheat-like head that consists of one or two rows of hard,
tasteless seed. Yet by repeatedly crossing naturally occurring
variants of teosinte, Native Americans somehow transformed it into
modern corn, a plant that is more than twice as tall and has a huge
cob with many rows of soft, tasty seed. "Modern corn was inside the
teosinte genome," Bradshaw says. "The Indians brought it out. Now
imagine what's inside the pine genome" -- an array of DNA seven times
larger than the human genome -- "and what modern methods could do
with it."

Western forests have been managed since the Enlightenment, but they
never went through the agricultural revolution. Tree farmers have
never subjected trees to the process of selection and breeding that
has transformed almost all else grown by humans. "If you go to a
park, almost everything you see has been bred," says Yousry
El-Kassaby, CellFor's director of forest genetics. "Grass, shrubs,
the fish in the ponds -- they've all been selected. The only
exception is the trees."

Until recently, forest biotechnology seemed unfeasible. A principal
reason was that most trees, unlike annual plants, cannot readily be
propagated from cuttings. "You can't stick a pine branch in the
ground and have it take root the way you can with a violet," says
Steven Strauss, an Oregon State University forest science professor
who has developed gene-splicing techniques for trees. As a result,
timber companies had to grow seed by planting seed orchards, full of
elite trees that were supposed to pollinate each other. But seed
orchards are difficult to control, because tree pollen spreads so far
that alien, non-elite trees almost inevitably muddy the gene pool.
Smaller seed orchards are more easily managed but can't produce
enough seed. Thus, even if timber companies created better trees
through traditional techniques, they couldn't reliably reproduce the
new genomes in large numbers -- an essential step.

CellFor has resolved these issues, El-Kassaby says. CellFor's process
uses chemical baths that in essence force a single seed -- a tree
embryo, as El-Kassaby thinks of it -- to produce millions of copies
of itself. The company then stores the copies cryogenically, popping
them into the ground when needed to produce seedlings that then are
sold to timber companies. "Anything you produce in a laboratory, we
can make millions of," El-Kassaby says. The advantages for timber
companies are multiple, but the most significant may be this:
According to CellFor, reproducing elite trees with its battery of
clonal techniques can increase wood production by as much as 60
percent from one generation of trees to the next.

Sheer size is not the only thing timber companies hope to get from
test-tube saplings. Natural trees seek to grow the tallest, narrowest
trunks possible and the thickest, widest array of branches possible
in their mission to capture sunlight. But timber companies would
prefer shorter, fatter trunks, to maximize wood production, and
small, sparse branches, to minimize knots and let foresters pack more
trees into each acre. An optimal tree also would have a smaller root
system -- on average, about a third of a tree's wood is under the
ground. Genetic engineering should be able to sculpt trees along
those lines with relative ease, Bradshaw believes. "You'd have
incredibly dense stands of trees that were 15 feet tall and 6 feet
wide and had a couple stubby branches at the very top," he speculates.

The payoff from these kinds of supertrees is potentially enormous.
According to David G. Victor, director of the Program on Energy and
Sustainable Development at Stanford University, the annual timber
plantation growth rate today is typically 30 to 40 cubic feet of wood
per acre. (The industry measures timberland productivity as annual
wood growth per acre, in cubic feet.) By taking the first steps at
better breeding and management, foresters in some areas have already
been able to raise that productivity figure by a factor of 10 or
more. "Now add in biotech, which could let you re-architect the tree
from the ground up," Victor says. "The potential is simply

Such "re-architected" organisms are probably years off. Scientists
have yet to fully unravel the genome of any specific tree species,
and thus have limited knowledge of which genes control things like
forming branches or growing wood. A government-sponsored project to
decipher the first tree genome -- of the black cottonwood -- is
expected to be completed in 2003. But high-tech forestry is already
homing in on seemingly less dramatic advances that still could save
huge amounts of money. To remove lignin, the compound that makes wood
cells rigid, the U.S. timber industry spends an estimated $20 billion
or more a year. That's an onerous cost in a business with annual
sales of $254 billion. Researchers at North Carolina State University
and Michigan Technological University have identified natural
mutations of genes that control lignin production in some species.
CellFor is also studying the problem.

Improvements to wood quality are another research target. "Trees are
chemical factories," says Oregon State's Strauss. "They fight off
pests for decades. If you could actually increase the level of
natural protection, you might be able to grow the equivalent of
pressure-treated wood with no toxic chemicals." Disease resistance is
yet another focus; the timber industry is plagued with diseases like
pitch canker, fatal to radiata pine, and fusiform rust, which
destroys about $50 million of loblolly pine every year. Westvaco,
International Paper, and other timber companies are also trying to
bioengineer herbicide-resistant trees, so foresters could kill weeds
and other competing species without harming their prized trees. By
one estimate, that could save the industry $975 million a year.

In the long run, many proponents argue, the most important impact of
bioforestry may be ecological, rather than economic. Some scientists
believe bioforestry could ease global warming, both by slowing
logging in natural forests and by storing vast amounts of carbon in
super-fast-growing trees. Today, according to studies by Stanford's
Victor and Jesse H. Ausubel, director of Rockefeller University's
Program for the Human Environment, roughly 2.2 billion of the world's
8 billion acres of forestland are subject to harvest. With more
productive trees, Victor and Ausubel say, the area of harvestable
forest could drop to 1 billion acres within 50 years, potentially
deeding 1.2 billion acres -- an area the size of the United States
west of the Mississippi River -- to environmental protection and
restoration. This extraordinary change, Victor and Ausubel contend,
could occur if silviculture simply applies modern agronomic and
advanced breeding techniques.

Genetic engineering vastly expands the possibilities, says Roger
Sedjo of Resources for the Future, a Washington-based economic
research group. "Could you provide all the world's wood and fiber
needs," he asks, "on 5 percent of its forestland, leaving all the
rest for wildlife?" Sedjo says none of the scientists he has
encountered regard the vision as impossible.

In parts of eastern Oregon, annual rainfall is as little as 8 inches,
and the soil consists of something close to pure sand. Yet there in
the sere desert outside the town of Boardman, the timber company
Potlatch has planted 17,000 acres of cloned hybrid poplars, crowded
into square blocks a quarter-mile to a side. Because there is little
rainfall and barren soil, Potlatch must "fertigate" its trees by
pumping water and fertilizer through 15,000 miles of thin black pipe.
But in Boardman, six-year-old trees grow as tall as 70 feet. "At the
height of summer, they go up more than an inch a day," says project
manager Greg Uhlorn. "You can sometimes literally see them grow."
Typical annual yields are as much as 500 cubic feet of wood per acre,
more than 10 times the world average. "Our projected rotation" -- the
time between planting and harvest -- "is 10 or 11 years," says Jake
Eaton, Potlatch plant materials manager. Up in the forests of the
Rocky Mountains, the site of most of Potlatch's timberlands, "you'd
be looking at 80 to 100 years."

Yet Potlatch's desert forest says as much about the problems facing
bioforestry as it does about its promise. To begin with, all that
fertigation is expensive. Although Eaton believes that bioengineered
trees will transform forestry, he also concedes that for many timber
companies, absorbing the inevitable startup costs "will be tough."
The political hurdles, he suggests, will be even harder to surmount.
Exhibit A is Potlatch itself, which needs to sell wood at Home Depot,
the world's biggest lumber retailer. Faced with environmental
protests, Home Depot agreed in 1999 to sell only wood that had been
certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, an international
nonprofit that backs "environmentally appropriate" forest management.
(For more on Home Depot's attempts to attain ecological
unassailabilty, see "What? Now we Have to Make a Profit and Be
Ethical?") FSC official principles flatly state that the "use of
genetically modified organisms shall be prohibited," with no
exceptions; Potlatch agreed to the FSC's conditions. The cloned trees
skirt the ban, because their genomes haven't been altered. But the
Boardman plantation is regretfully ripping out test plots of more
complex bioengineered trees that have been modified for herbicide

Indeed, the prospect of bioengineering trees is deeply unsettling to
many people. Both the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund (now
known as the WWF) have called for a moratorium on the release of
genetically modified tree species. Some well-known conservation
biologists, such as University of California at Santa Barbara
professor Daniel Botkin, also call for a go-slow approach to
bioforestry. Sometimes the protests are more vehement. Last spring,
the shadowy Earth Liberation Front claimed credit for destroying
experimental trees at Oregon State and for burning down Bradshaw's
University of Washington lab. In November, police found two bombs in
forestry labs at Michigan Tech.

Perhaps the most powerful argument available to opponents is "genetic
pollution" -- a phenomenon in which the novel genetic information in
bioengineered trees will spread from tree plantations to natural
forests, with potentially disastrous results. Such genetic pollution
has, in fact, occurred. In September, the Mexican government
announced it had discovered foreign pest-resistant genes in native
maize varieties, despite Mexico's ban on planting genetically
modified corn seed. No one knows how it happened, or whether the new
genes will have any impact. But the nightmare scenario for
bioforestry opponents is that altered genes will make their way into
natural species, behave in ways that scientists never imagined, and
eventually throw ecosystems into chaos. Biotechnology in the wild,
asserts biologist Mae-Wan Ho of Britain's Open University, "is
inherently unsustainable and extremely hazardous to biodiversity."

Even bioforestry's biggest backers admit that stubby, branchless
trees wouldn't do spotted owls much good. But they argue that the
chance of creating devastating genetic monstrosities is remote, in
part because many of the characteristics that scientists are trying
to engineer into trees would be such evolutionary disadvantages in
the wild that they would be unlikely to spread. Researchers are
trying to further minimize the possibility of genes escaping --
through more genetic engineering, among other methods. Strauss, for
instance, is working on genetic modifications that would delay or
block pollination, making it essentially impossible for bioengineered
trees to reproduce.

Such measures won't guarantee that no environmental harm will come
from bioforestry. To some degree, however, the bioforestry genie is
already out of the bottle. The technology that allows it is moving
rapidly, and the theoretical ecological gains -- and far more
concrete economic ones -- give it momentum.

At CellFor, a company consultant and Rockefeller University
researcher named Nam Ha Chua is speaking excitedly about a new
discovery: a gene that drives plant cells in many different species
to reproduce. "You just take a leaf from a tree, insert our gene, and
it pushes out embryos," he says. In the lab, his team has induced
trees to sprout embryos on roots, stems, even grains of pollen.
"Seeds without sexual reproduction!" Chua says. "I tell you, I am
retiring and going fishing on this gene."

Debate: Yes, We Can. But Should We?.....Three experts on the merits
of bioforestry.

Ed Owens, manager for forest science and technology, Westvaco : We
believe that people and companies can benefit from bioforestry. We
expect the trees to grow faster. We expect to reduce the damage from
insects and disease by putting in genes that would allow trees to be
resistant to those things. We expect to grow trees where trees don't
currently grow. We realize we need to get public acceptance. We need
to do things that people perceive to be not so much economic but a
benefit to the population in general. Most people understand that
we're not doing this just because we like to do it; we're doing it
because we believe there's a profit opportunity. There's risk
involved in this research. From a scientific standpoint, we feel
fairly certain that over the next few years we can solve many of the
scientific issues involved in developing these products. But it's a
hard sell if only the companies benefit; then the public would say,
"Why take the risk?" We have to make it economically benefit the
people who are purchasing wood products. Doreen

Stabinsky, geneticist and Greenpeace USA science adviser: We know
very little about trees that we'll be able to engineer. For instance,
the insect-resistance gene is exceedingly problematic, because many
of the trees cultivated are wind-pollinated. We can't contain pollen,
so those genetically engineered trees are going to contaminate wild
strands of related trees. It's not just that the gene is a wild gene,
but potentially a toxic gene. What are the consequences for soil
organisms? If you screw up the organisms in the soil, you potentially
screw up the ability of a plant to live.... We're talking about
speeding up, considerably, evolutionary time, and putting toxins in
forest ecosystems or plantations and having them spread through huge
numbers of trees on a large scale, and then asking the ecosystem's
organisms to adapt on much shorter than evolutionary time.
[Proponents' pro-environment arguments] aren't very valid to me.
There is a lot we can do [for forest health] that doesn't involve
genetic engineering.

David G. Victor, head of Stanford's Program on Energy and Sustainable
Development: I see the interest in genetic engineering of trees as a
logical extension of the effort to make our tree crop more
productive, which is good for industry, because it means capital
costs and production costs are lower, and generally good for the
environment. But neither of those is an ordained outcome. The
environmental community rightly has raised questions about the
controls on the genetic engineering experiments. These are legitimate
questions, and a lot of constructive answers have been supplied. We
need to keep pressure on industry. I'm reassured that this is being
conducted in a responsible fashion. It's worth pointing out that
normal breeding of trees, or agricultural crops, entails pretty
substantial risks as well. One thing we need to be careful about is
that we don't set the hurdle for this new technology so high that the
benefits in terms of lower risks and ecological advantages can't be
realized because we've made it impossible for the new technology to
even enter into field trials.