Imagine a mature elm tree that would fit nicely on the backyard deck. Or 20–year–old poplar trees, ordinarily more than 100 feet tall, providing golden fall foliage as a nice five–foot hedge in your side yard.
Control of tree height is now possible, based on new gene modification techniques reported by OSU forest scientist Steve Strauss. The director of OSU’s Outreach in Biotechnology program, Strauss has found a way to inhibit a class of plant hormones known as gibberellic acids, which promote the elongation of plant cells.
"Scientifically, this is really interesting. There’s no doubt we could now use these approaches to control the height and shape of trees in ways never before possible," Strauss says.
Nevertheless, these trees are unlikely to show up soon at the local nursery. Costly legal and marketplace hurdles stand in the way of recombinant DNA methods, which he used in the research. A member of national and international biotechnology panels, Strauss feels that many restrictions are inappropriately high for traits like these, which pose no significant environmental concern.