Interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor on genetically modified trees that absorb more carbon, grow faster, are pest-resistant, and other such quasi-miraculous qualities. I have mixed feelings about genetic modification, which I suppose makes me an apostate in the enviro movement, wherein one is supposed to be reflexively against any such tampering. But why? This story is a good example — there’s a lot of handwaving about the dangers, but very little empirical evidence, or even reasoned argument, about them.Like this:

“We’re looking at a very dramatic impact on the ground here in the U.S., and especially the South,” says Alyx Perry, director of the Southern Forests Network in Asheville, N.C. “There are inevitable risks that can irreversibly alter native systems.”

Or this:

“Regardless of all the problems with agri-crops, [tree geneticists are] saying, let’s do this with trees, which live for hundreds of years. What are they thinking?” asks Anne Petermann, codirector of the Global Justice Ecology Project in Hinesburg, Vt.

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But … risk of what? What dangers? The only one mentioned in the story is “that the seeds of the experimental trees will take root amid wild populations, changing the aesthetics of the woods.” Even this, most scientists interviewed dismissed as highly unlikely.  Then there’s “critics” saying scientists should be more concerned with “confronting the ethical side of tampering with the lungs of the world.” But we tamper with trees all the time. What’s the danger? Where’s the beef?

I’m open to the idea that there are genuine risks here — perhaps the story’s author simply didn’t fairly represent them — but if I’m going to be foursquare against GM science of any kind, I’d like to have some empirical ammunition. I find too little in stories like this.

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