But they could wreak havoc on the ecosystem.
In order to fight the growing threat of global climate change, scientists are now suggesting that we genetically modify trees so that they can quickly suck more carbon out of the atmosphere.
The idea, CBC reports, is based on the basic idea that more trees means less atmospheric carbon dioxide and a healthier planet. But that requires massive, old forests that could take centuries to grow — so Canadian Forest Service scientist Armand Séguin suggests speeding up the clock by gene-hacking trees to grow faster and better survive an onslaught of new challenges, like novel diseases and pests.
The notion of gene-hacking forests is controversial, to say the least. But for scientists who support the idea, taking the risk is better than doing nothing as we stare down a future shaped by the ravages of climate change.
"There are a lot of different ways in which forests could be made to be better carbon sinks," Val Giddings, a geneticist and senior fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation told CBC. "But perhaps at the top of the list, I would offer up gene editing."
Other experts remain unconvinced, saying that genetically modifying plants in the wild could wreak unforeseen havoc down the road.
"Plantations consisting of trees with accelerated growth rates [would be] a huge, dangerous experiment that threatens forest ecosystems," Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, told CBC.
But for Séguin, the potential benefits of the plan are too good to simply pass over.
"I don't think gene editing is the solution, but it's part of the solution," Séguin told CBC.
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