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Christmas of the future: genetically modified fir trees

The science is making giant strides and in many aspects of our lives that will surprise us. Researchers in North Carolina are working on creating a genetically modified Christmas tree to enhance its features.


The holiday season brings with it the magic of tradition but also ushers in new changes. In recent times, we have observed artificial Christmas trees gaining ground due to their practicality and durability, somewhat overshadowing the beauty of natural fir trees. However, there are still those who cling to the charm of authenticity.

Abies fraseri, también conocido como abeto fraser o árbol de navidad.
Abies fraseri, also known as Fraser fir or Christmas tree.

In this regard, science and genetic research are playing a fundamental role in the transformation of our beloved Christmas trees. While real fir trees offer a unique experience, they also present challenges such as their degradation over time and the inconvenient needle shedding.

At North Carolina State University, the Christmas Tree Genetics Program has been revolutionizing this narrative. Since the late '90s, they have been devoted to developing more resilient, lush, and fast-growing firs, creating what is referred to as "elite" Christmas trees.

Primeros abetos modificados genéticamente y plantados en 1999.
The first genetically modified firs were planted in 1999.

Boosting these three qualities, the Fraser firs used during the holiday season reach their commercial height within 6 to 7 years, significantly reducing the standard time of 8 years. Aesthetic appeal is also crucial in this program, resulting in particularly lush Fraser firs that are perfect for decorating with a wide variety of festive ornaments.

However, the most notable change lies in the resilience of these genetically improved firs. According to the CNR, these trees barely lose between 1 or 2 % of their needles, even in conditions where the coldest temperatures aren't reached. This resilience extends the freshness and lushness of the trees to the extent that it might not even be necessary to use a vacuum cleaner to remove the few needles that fall.

Justin Whitehill, leader of the Program, explains that their goal extends beyond aesthetics. They aim to create natural trees that are not only beautiful but also practical, intending to entice lovers of artificial trees to rediscover authenticity.

"So, I hope that by 2036, the Christmas trees developed in our program will be available to consumers," states Whitehill.

In this scenario, genetic innovation is not only changing the way we view Christmas trees but also redefining our most entrenched traditions. It's a step forward in celebrating the holiday season, merging authenticity with technological advancement.

Written by Irene Rodríguez

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