UF/IFAS researchers to present forest biotechnology promise at national conference

Jiri Hulcr mug

Jiri Hulcr

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers will introduce genetic biotechnology as a potential means to preserve forests at a national conference next week in Washington, D.C.

Jiri Hulcr, an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation, and one of his doctoral students, Caroline Storer, will host the symposium at the North American Forest Insect Work Conference May 31 to June 3.

Hulcr sees this conference as an opportunity for the UF/IFAS forest entomology team to disseminate innovative solutions to maintain tree health.

“Exploring the use of biotechnology in tree health protection is important to us, because we are increasingly running out of other options,” Hulcr said.

Additionally, he said: “Trees and forests provide jobs and benefits for everyone. Yet, around city neighborhoods and rural forests, anyone can witness the diminishing health of trees. The culprit is exotic pests and diseases. Forget pollution or drought: It is destructive tree diseases and pests — imported by overseas travelers or business people — that are nearly eliminating some tree species from our forests and orchards.”

Hulcr said he and his team focus on these emerging threats, and they’re working with tree health scientists nationwide to find ways to prevent or reverse the damage that global travel and commerce have caused.

“There is now an incredible selection of genetic tools that can be used to help trees defend themselves,” Hulcr said. “These new technologies may be among the few viable tools that are available to protect our nation’s forests.” In her presentation, Storer will talk about the role of biotechnology in preserving the world’s forests. The potential of innovations in genetic engineering remains underused for forest health protection, Storer said.

Alison Adams, an assistant professor in forest resources and conservation, will speak on public trust and genetic modification technology.

Public surveys and scholarly research have established that a significant portion of the American public distrusts science and that this portion is growing, according to material provided by the conference. Researchers know little about why people distrust scientific innovations such as genetic modification technology. But Adams’ presentation will explore the complex relationship between science, institutions and the lay public, specifically focusing on the debate over genetic modification technology.

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Source: Jiri Hulcr, 352-273-0299, hulcr@ufl.edu