Mouvement mondial pour les forêts tropicales

China – WRM information sheet on GE tree research

Disponible uniquement en anglais. 

WRM information sheets on GE tree research

First posted: 1 August 2008
Modified: 27 November 2008
Modified: 7 August 2009
Last update: August 2014

Tree species being manipulated:

  • Poplar (Populus nigra and Populus hybrid). The two GE poplar clones have been named Poplar-12 and Poplar-741. According to officials from the Chinese Academy of Forestry, “both commercialized species are female poplars with altered fertility”. (1)
  • Eucalyptus (2)
  • Rubber tree (3)

Aim of genetic manipulation

  • Resistance to leaf-eating insects (Bt) (1)
  • Resistance to herbicides (4)
  • Modified wood properties (less lignin content) (4)
  • Tolerance to saline soils (5)
  • Resistance to Bacterial Wilt disease in Eucalyptus (caused by the soil bacteria Ralstonia solanacearum) (2)

Those carrying out the research

  • Chinese Academy of Forestry (6)
  • Hebei University, Boading (1)
  • Guangxi Academy of Sciences and the Research Institute of Tropical Forestry of the Chinese Academy of Forestry (Eucalyptus) (2)
  • CATAS (Chinese Academy for Tropical Agricultural Sciences) (Rubber) (7)

Those who provide support to research

  • Federal Research Centre for Forestry and Forest Products at Waldsieversdorf in Germany (8)
  • FuturaGene (Israel) and its subsidiaries, CBD Technologies and FuturaGene Investment Consulting (Beijing) in a collaboration agreement with the Research Institute of Tropic Forestry of the Chinese Academy of Forestry (Eucalyptus) (2) (obs.: FuturaGene´s owner, the Company Suzano from Brazil, informed it intends to plant GE eucalyptus and poplar in China in Future (9)
  • FAO (8)
  • UNDP (8)

Regulatory framework for research and field trials

  • Regulation of genetically modified organisms in China is covered by the Biosafety Act for GMOs in Agriculture, adopted by the State Council in May 2001. Before GM trees can be planted an expert panel organised by the State Forestry Administration (SFA) carries out a technical assessment. The National Committee for Biosafety of GMOs in Agriculture bases its decision whether to approve the GM trees for release on the panel’s report. (10)
  • More recently, regulations were developed to cope with more specific biosafety issues associated with forest trees, including “Rules on Administration of Examination and Approval for Genetic Engineering Activities of Forest Trees” issued in 2006, followed by “Technical Codes for Biosafety Assessment of Transgenic Forest Plants and Products” in 2007. (4)

Commercial release of GE trees

  • In 2002/2003, China’s State Forestry Administration approved genetically modified (GM) poplar trees (Poplar-12 and Poplar-741) for commercial planting. According to FAO, about 1.4 million trees were planted on 300-500 hectares. (11)
  • According to official statistics from the Chinese Forestry Academy, Bt poplars are currently being commercially grown on around 200-300 hectares. There are a further 300 hectares of small research sites, distributed over several provinces. (12)

Field trials:

  • Until 2010, 84 field trials with genetically modified tree species had been granted by the SFA. (13)
  • Until 2013, in China 78 field trials had been carried out. (14)
  • After the first commercial release of GE trees, “Seven additional genetically modified poplars, including Populus xiaozhannica ‘Balizhaungyang’ genetically modified with salt-tolerant genes have been approved for field testing”. (4)

GE tree contamination

  • The Nanjing Institute of Environmental Science has already found genes from the GE poplars in Xinjiang appearing in natural varieties growing nearby.(15, 16) According to Wang Huoran of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, GE poplar trees “are so widely planted in northern China that pollen and seed dispersal cannot be prevented. Research on how to prevent  this is still developing and some methods being field tested; however, “it is extremely difficult to totally suppress reproduction, and even a small amount of gene flow can eventually spread GE traits to trees in the wild”. (17)
  • The emergence of new insect pests, previously unknown in non-transgenic poplar trees, occurred after planting GE (Bt poplar) trees. This has been observed in reports of the Chinese Institute for Forestry, (18)