Loblolly pine open for genetic engineering, research shows

COLLEGE STATION - The nation's most important commercial pine tree - the loblolly - has been successfully genetically engineered, researchers at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station report in the journal Molecular Breeding.

The study, which proves a concept already demonstrated on many other plant species, will lead to further research that ultimately will enable scientists to improve the native southern pine with such traits as drought tolerance and disease- and pest-resistance, according to lead researcher Dr. Jean Gould, an Experiment Station molecular biologist.

"Loblolly pine has been challenging to genetically engineer because the genotype is very difficult to regenerate into plants in tissue culture," said Gould.

The transformation was done with a marker gene merely to prove that such genetic transfer could be done and that plants carrying the gene could be regenerated.

Gould's method for transforming plants - using a plant's meristem region for inoculation with Agrobacterium - was patented by the Experiment Station in 1992. The first plants transformed using this method were petunia and corn, followed by cotton and rice. She said using a plant meristem for transformation, rather than the traditional callus method, is a quicker and more universal way to transform plants because plant regeneration is simplified. In addition, the callus method does not work for many types of plants.

Loblolly pines dominate about 29 million acres in the southern United States, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The species grows rapidly as a young tree and lives about 75 years, but does not reach reproductive maturity for as many as 10 years after germination - meaning that traditional breeding programs would take decades to accomplish any improvements for the tree.

"While some crop plants have been selectively bred for more than 10,000 years, programs for the genetic improvement of pine are less than 100 years old

Contact: Dr. Jean Gould
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications

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