World Rainforest Movement

Australia – WRM information sheet on GE tree research

WRM information sheets on GE tree research

First posted: 1st August 2008

Last update: August 2014

Tree species being manipulated:

  • eucalyptus

Aim of genetic manipulation

  • faster growth (2)
  • improved wood quality (2)
  • sterility (2)

Those carrying out the research:

  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) (2) (4). Research discontinued in around 2003 (5)
  • Ensis (“a collaboration agreement between CSIRO and New Zealand’s Scion”) (6) Scion works on GE tree research in partnership with US biotech company ArborGen. According to Scion Chief Executive Tom Richardson “The partnership will also benefit Scion’s unincorporated joint venture operation, Ensis, through the provision of tools leading to faster breeding of improved trees” (7). It was reported in 2007 that Ensis is also involved in a project to characterize the Eucalyptus genome, “uniting some two dozen institutes worldwide”, led by a researcher of the Southafrican University of Pretoria and support of the U.S. department of Energy Joint Genome Institute(8)
  • University of Melbourne (3)
  • University of Adelaide (4)

Those who provide support to research:

  • About 75 per cent of CSIRO’s funds come from government and the remainder from industry and other groups (2)
  • The Institute of Foresters of Australia which, in a policy statement approved in June 2007 declared that “The use of Genetically Modified Organisms in forestry in Australia may provide opportunities to enhance the competitiveness of the forest industries …”. (1)

Regulatory framework for research and field trials:

  • All GMOs are regulated by the Gene Technology Act 2000, administered by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (1)

Organizations opposing GE trees:

  •  Friends of the Earth Australia
  •  MADGE, Mothers are Demystifying Genetic Engineering


  4. Note: links to these last two pages appear not to function any more. The information contained in those pages was: “The University of Melbourne: Genetic transformation of Eucalyptus polybractea with reporter genes”, “NLRD 772/2003 – CSIRO Plant Industry – Genetic engineering of eucalypts – B – 31-mar-03” and “NLRD 583/2003 – The University of Adelaide – Cloning of RNA’s from eucalypts with Mundulla Yellow Disease – E – 08-ene-03”.
  5. As part of a discussion on GM trees in the Tasmanian Times ( a CSIRO researcher said on 24 September 2008: “My name is Simon Southerton and I am currently leading CSIRO’s molecular forestry research. It is true that in the past CSIRO has carried out greenhouse research on eucalyptus using GM approaches. This was in strictly controlled conditions and field trials were never considered. We stopped this research about 5 years ago largely because we did not see it as an appropriate way to improve eucalypts in the Australian setting.”