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08 October 2010

Growth Of Biofuel Industry Hurt By GMO Regulations

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Faster development of the promising field of cellulosic biofuels - the renewable energy produced from grasses and trees - is being significantly hampered by a "deep and thorny regulatory thicket" that makes almost impossible the use of advanced gene modification methods, researchers say
In a new study published in the journal BioScience, scientists argue that major regulatory reforms and possibly new laws are needed to allow cellulosic bioenergy to reach its true potential as a form of renewable energy, and in some cases help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

"It's extraordinary that gene modification technology, which has been adapted more rapidly than any other technology in the history of agriculture, and had some profound environmental and economic benefits, has been regulated virtually out of existence for perennial cellulosic biofuels crops," said Steve Strauss, a distinguished professor of forest biotechnology at Oregon State University, and lead author of the paper.

In the report, the authors noted that exotic plant species pose a serious risk of spread and ecosystem impacts, but face much less stringent regulation or obstacles than genetically engineered crops, which are carefully designed to solve problems, not cause them.

A genetically modified plant in which one or a few genes have been changed is treated as more of a risk than an invasive species that has thousands of new genes, and as a result is often resistant to multiple pests and has novel adaptive traits such as drought and heat tolerance, the Companies that have the technical expertise to conduct advanced research have been forced to stay away from gene modification methods, rather than adopt them to speed breeding progress and insert novel traits important to the growing biofuels industry.

Traits that could be improved with gene modification include enhanced stress tolerance, reduced costs of conversion to liquid fuels, reduced use of water and fertilizer in cultivation, avoiding dispersal into the environment, and synthesis of new, renewable products such as industrial enzymes.


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