More than one million genetically modified (GM) trees planted in China have been 'lost' because of an administrative 'black hole'. The trees had been planted as part of efforts to halt desertification and prevent flooding in China's arid north-west.
The tree planting took place largely at the headwaters of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers in Xinjiang province, initially using non-GM trees. But insect pests hit the plantations hard, so local poplar trees — genetically modified to resist the insects — were planted instead.
Chinese scientists now warn that because the trees are not classed as crops, the normal licensing system required by the country's Ministry of Agriculture was not applied, so records of the trees' locations are inadequate. This is raising concerns about the potential environmental impacts of the planting as researchers have found genes from GM poplars in natural varieties growing nearby.