The genetic engineering of tree species is still not routine as transformation procedures in model plants such as Arabidopsis thaliana, or other crops such as maize,
potato, tobacco and tomato. Eucalyptus is cultivated as feedstock for woody biomass for the forest products. However, the long generation time of trees and the
prolonged period required for evaluation of mature traits are strong limitations for classical breeding and selection. The development of methods for in vitro culture
and genetic engineering has increased the possibility of producing Eucalyptus genotypes improved in insect pest resistance, herbicide tolerance, growth rate
and wood quality. However, transformation efficiency for Eucalyptus trees in particular has been very low and requires in vitro efficient protocols for plant induction,
regeneration and selection that allow obtaining transgenic plants from the transformed cell groups.
Poplar has become the model tree species for genetic transformation due to the high susceptibility to Agrobacterium and high regeneration rates from transformed
cells. Production of transgenic poplar trees has been perceived as a possible approach for the control of diseases, and improvement of the plant quality. With the
development of genome engineering technologies based on the CRISPR associated RNA-guided endonuclease Cas9 systems genetic engineering of poplar trees
become a powerful approach to engineer traits of high commercial value such as cellulose and hemicellulose biosynthesis in trees.
In FMG we have established capacity for the development of transgenic Arabidopsis and poplar plants and gene testing in the laboratory. From the laboratory
we can transfer the plants to our plant growth facilities for comparative growth studies. We also have the capacity for routine tissue culture and in vitro
propagation of a variety of different Eucalyptus genotypes. We have set up collaborations with Prof Steve Strauss at Oregon State University (OSU) and the
biotechnology company Futuragene towards developing a Eucalyptus transgenic platform at the University of Pretoria.