OSU studying 'semi-dwarf' trees for greener forest management

The trees right and left of center have been genetically modified to be shorter.
Courtesy Oregon State University

The poplar trees right and left of center have been genetically modified to be shorter. 

Oregon State University researchers are studying how growing shorter trees can lead to more sustainable and productive forest management practices.

The work of the OSU forest genetics scientists, published in the journal Plant Physiology, shows that genetically modified trees that don't grow as tall have benefits for sustainable wood and biomass production, bioenergy and a more efficient use of water in an increasingly drier climate.

The research runs counter to conventional wisdom and decades of tree breeding toward the end of producing taller and taller trees.

"Research now makes it clear that genetic modification of height growth is achievable," said Steven Strauss, an OSU professor of forest genetics, in a press release. “We understand the genes and hormones that control growth not only in crop plants, but also in trees. They are largely the same.”

OSU researchers have been working with poplar trees, a species popular with researchers and often used for biomass.

Portland-based GreenWood Resources, which in August sold a majority of its business to financial services giant TIAA-CREF, manages a poplar farm in eastern Oregon that supplies trees to ZeaChem Inc. for use at its Boardman bio-refinery.

The OSU research is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Science Foundation, and industry members of the Tree Biosafety and Genomics Research Cooperative at OSU.

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