Tag Archives: ArborGen

No Regulatory Authority Over GM Pine Tree – Follow Responsible Use Principles

Even when GM trees are not regulated, there are stewardship principles in place that promote the long-term, responsible use of them.

ArborGen sent this letter to USDA asking if their Loblolly Pine would be regulated. USDA responded with this letter to ArborGen stating it does not have regulatory authority over the tree based on the genetic construct and process used to develop it.

However, the USDA recommended that the Responsible Use Principles be followed.

The Responsible Use: Biotech Tree Principles were developed to help protect forests wherever biotech trees are used. These Principles are the first of their kind and were developed through a transparent, multi-stakeholder mechanism, to achieve the following objectives:

  • Establish a high level of performance for managing biotech trees that is recognized around the world.
  • Create a simple and effective set of practices so users along the biotech tree value chain know how to use the trees responsibly.
  • Increase societal benefits when biotech trees are used by promoting interaction and education between foresters, biotechnologists, and other stakeholders.

Embodied throughout is an understanding that biotech trees and their products should create sustainable benefits. Benefits may be derived from the biotech tree, its products, or scientific insight gained through forest biotechnology research. The Practices give users tools to help them enhance the benefits of forest biotechnology, mitigate risks and maintain the integrity of a biotech tree’s history as it moves along the value chain. Learn more about the Principles at ResponsibleUse.org

The following excerpt is from an article published by Capital Press

A pine tree genetically engineered for greater wood density can be grown without restrictions after the USDA decided it lacks authority to regulate the variety.

The finding has alarmed critics of genetically modified organisms who fear the new cultivar will cross-pollinate with trees in the wild, resulting in unknown consequences for forests.

ArborGen, a tree seedling producer, altered the loblolly pine variety with a gene gun inserting genetic material from the Monterey pine, the American sweetgum tree, mouse ear cress and E. coli bacteria.

None of these organisms are plant pest risks, so the USDA has determined the pine is not a regulated article and can be freely cultivated without undergoing environmental studies, unlike crops that rely on plant pathogens for their transformation.

Higher density in wood is generally associated with strength and durability in lumber as well as higher energy content for biomass uses, said Steven Strauss, a forest biotechnology professor at Oregon State University.

Biotech cultivars that rely on plant pests for gene transfer often undergo lengthy government scrutiny before theyre brought to market, he said.

The regulatory process is highly political. Its not just based on science Strauss said.

For this reason, companies are seeking alternate ways of commercializing genetically engineered crops, he said. Thats understandable from the commercial point of view.

Arborgen, for example, has tried to gain USDAs approval since 2008 for a freeze-tolerant eucalyptus tree, which was transformed with a soil pathogen and thus must receive the agencys permission for widepsread commercialization.

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit to block the company from field testing the trees, but that request was denied by a federal judge.

Even so, Arborgen was asked to submit additional data about the biotech tree in 2011 and the variety remains regulated while the USDA conducts an in-depth environmental review.

Critics of genetically modified organisms such as the Center for Food Safety worry that Arborgen was able to circumvent field trial permits and other regulatory procedures with its loblolly pine cultivar.

The group claims its unprecedented for USDA to allow a genetically engineered tree to be cultivated without any government oversight.

This is a genetically engineered organism that is going completely unregulated said Martha Crouch, biotechnology consultant for the organization.

Strauss, of OSU, said he would like to see more nimble regulations governing biotech crops but is nervous about USDAs lack of authority over GMOs produced without plant pests.

While the USDA may not consider such crops to be regulated articles, other countries may disagree ” creating the potential for chaos in the marketplace he said.

The Center for Food Safety is concerned about potential environmental impacts, alleging that changes in wood density could affect decomposition rates and forest species.

Because the USDA decided it lacks regulatory authority over the tree, the agency only considered the method of transformation without assessing any other potential risks that it might pose, said Crouch.

This is an end run around that Crouch said.

Very little information is available to the public in Arborgens request letter seeking regulatory clearance or the USDAs response, she said. We dont really know how they did it or how big of a change it is.

Arborgen was formed in 2000 by combining the biotechnology divisions of three forest products companies.

In 2010, the company filed reports with U.S. financial regulators in preparation for an initial public offering of its stock.

Those records show Arborgen losing nearly $15 million on roughly $22 million in revenues during that fiscal year. The firm later withdrew its plans to sell shares to the public due to poor market conditions.

USDA to Hold Online Public Meetings on Freeze-Tolerant Eucalyptus

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) will hold a series of online virtual meetings to solicit public comment regarding preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) associated with a petition from ArborGen, LLC to determine nonregulated status for its genetically engineered (GE) freeze tolerant eucalyptus.

  • APHIS will use the public comments to identify issues to be considered in developing the Draft EIS.
  • The 60-day open comment period will close on April 29.
  • Interested parties may also leave written comments instead of attending the virtual meetings.
  • Transcripts and a recording of all virtual meetings will be available on this website.

ArborGen Inc., has developed a genetically engineered eucalyptus tree that is more tolerant of cold conditions than traditional varieties of the tree. The GE trait in the tree allows it to grow in additional areas of the country.

Over the last several years, field tests involving the GE eucalyptus tree have been done under regulation by the Department of Agricultures Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). ArborGen Inc. has now petitioned APHIS to deregulate its GE eucalyptus; if deregulated by APHIS, ArborGen, Inc. would then be free to commercialize its product. APHIS deregulates GE plants that have been under regulation by the Agency only after it conducts a thorough analysis that shows the GE plant does not pose a plant pest risk to agricultural crops or other plants and plant products.

On February 22, 2013, APHIS announced it was making available for public review and comment ArborGen Inc.s petition for deregulation of its GE eucalyptus tree, and that the Agency would be preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) in support of its decision-making. More information on why APHIS has decided to prepare an EIS in support of its decision-making regarding this GE eucalyptus can be found at:http://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/biotechnology/2013/faq_brs_combined_petitions.pdf.

In its announcement on February 22, APHIS also announced it would be convening two online public meetings to collect information and comments from individuals interested in this GE eucalyptus tree. APHIS is now sharing more information on these public meetings. The virtual meetings will be held on Wednesday, April 17 from 7:00-9:00 PM EDT, and

Thursday, April 18 from 4:00-6:00 PM EDT. We ask those interested in listening to, or speaking at the meetings to register in advance. Registration can be done through www.APHISVirtualMeetings.com. To provide written comments, visit:http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=APHIS-2012-0030-0001.

Further information on the EIS and petition for deregulation are available at the virtual meetings website: www.APHISVirtualMeetings.com.

Environmental Assessment (EA) & Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for field release of Biotech Eucalyptus

APHIS announces today the availability of a Final Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for a proposed field release of a genetically engineered variety of Eucalyptus.

This action by APHIS is not a determination of nonregulated status for GE Eucalyptus by the Agency. Rather, it is a response by APHIS approving a field test permit application request from the developer of the GE Eucalyptus. From 2002-2011, APHIS has issued numerous authorizations to ArborGen LLC for the importation and field testing of GE eucalyptus trees in the southeastern United States. ArborGen is currently growing GE eucalyptus on 28 research sites in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas, and the current permits allow flowering on up to 330 acres across 27 of the 28 sites. These field trials have been approved by APHIS under strict permit conditions designed to prevent the movement of the regulated GE traits outside of the field test sites. Developers of new GE products typically conduct field trials under approval by, and conditions set by APHIS, for some time before either concluding field trials, or petitioning APHIS for a determination of nonregulated status for the GE product.

On February 21, 2011, APHIS received a permit application from ArborGen, LLC for a controlled field release of genetically engineered Eucalyptus hybrids in six small locations in four southern US states, totaling 14.7 acres. In comparison to previous permits issued to ArborGen, this permit would authorize ArborGen to conduct field trials at a few new locations, evaluate new traits, and allow flowering of trees at one location. The purpose of the field release is to assess the effectiveness of gene constructs intended to confer cold tolerance, to test the efficacy of genes introduced to alter lignin biosynthesis, growth rate, and flowering. In response to this new permit application from ArborGen, LLC, APHIS prepared an environmental assessment to consider whether there will be any significant environmental impacts resulting from authorization of the new field trials.

On February 10, 2012, APHIS published a draft of the environmental assessment for public comment for 30 days; 246 comments were received by APHIS. APHIS has reviewed all of the comments and concluded in its final EA that there will not be a significant impact to the quality of the human environment resulting from authorization of the field trials. APHIS also concludes that the strict permit conditions imposed by APHIS will effectively limit the reproductive capabilities and establishment of this GE Eucalyptus outside the confined field trial locations, and reduce the possibility of unintended exposure from moving GE Eucalyptus trees. APHIS has determined that it is appropriate to issue a FONSI based on its conclusions in the final EA.  APHIS will conduct inspections of the field trials to ensure compliance with the required conditions.

Permits authorizing the field trials will be issued once the notice of availability of the final EA and FONSI is published in the Federal Registernext week.
To view the final EA and FONSI, click the links below:

  1. ArborGen Permit No. 11-052-101rm Final EA
  2. ArborGen Permit No. 11-052-101rm FONSI

Reference Source: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/11_052101rm.shtml

Genetically modified low-lignin eucalyptus yields twice the sugar

From Biorefining Magazine:

A few modifications to the eucalyptus tree can go a long way, and ArborGen has the research data to prove it. Since May 2010, the Summerville, S.C., company has been developing genetically modified eucalyptus trees and, now with the help of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, it has identified a lignin-modified eucalyptus tree that can release twice as much sugar in comparison to unmodified versions.

The modified trees are able to counteract the process of recalcitrance the cell walls use to fight against processes that attempt to break down the lignin. Typically, to access the sugars in the biomass, pretreatment applications involving heat, pressure and chemicals are used to break down the biomass into sugar, but ArborGen has found that by down-regulating the lignin pathway in the cinnamate-4-hydroxylase (C4H), the trees are able to release more sugar. And while the down regulation of the C4H has hindered the growth of some species, the E. grandis x E. urophylla tree lines grow well. The C4H lines, ArborGen estimates, can produce roughly 10 dry-tons per acre per year of biomass, and could also produce nearly 1,000 gallons of biofuels per acre.

Angela Ziebell with NREL noted that what makes this eucalyptus research interesting is the increased ease with which the sugars are released also adding that the challenge is not just how much sugar a plant contains, but whether the plant will release that sugar without excessive processing.

In May 2010, the USDAs Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service approved a permit submitted by ArborGen to plant and grow the GM trees on 29 separate sites, which, among other aspects, would also test for cold tolerance. According to NREL researchers the C4H modified line of trees has only half of the lignin, and the GM trees also release an astounding 99 percent of their sugar compared to 50 percent in unmodified plants. We think the result of this technology may increase the potential of Eucalyptus as a biomass source for liquid fuels Ziebell said. This result is particularly exciting given that efficient sugar release from plants is an obstacle to achieving affordable biofuels.