There are advantages to specialized breeding and genetic engineering of the poplar trees destined for biofuels, including the potential for drought-resistance or lower lignin content in the wood. However, there is concern over gene flow, i.e. pollen and seed movement, from hybrid or genetic-engineered trees to native poplar populations.
To address this, AHB researchers from Oregon State University developed techniques for controlling the ability of poplar to spread through wind-born pollen and seeds. Using a classic technique known as RNA interference, AHB researchers successfully “turn downed” a key gene that controls flowering in poplars. They also tested a new genome editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9, which is inexpensive, easy to use, and allows permanent changes to genes of interest.
NOTE: The hybrid poplars at AHB’s demonstration sites are not genetically engineered. They were bred using traditional techniques of controlled pollination.