Natural selection never came up with a way for Douglas fir trees to grow higher than 350 to 400 feet. So will humans ever use genetic engineering to lift that limit?
CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Douglas-fir, state tree of Oregon, towering king of old-growth forests and one of the tallest tree species on Earth, finally stops growing taller because it just can't pull water any higher, a new study concludes.
This limit on height is somewhere above 350 feet, or taller than a 35-story building, and is a physiological tradeoff between two factors in the tree's wood - a balance between efficiency and safety in transporting water to the uppermost leaves.
The findings are being published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by a team of scientists from Oregon State University and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service. The research was funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service.
The article briefly describes the limitations on tree growth caused by the mechanism by which water is lifted up through the tree. Well, okay. But can bioengineering produce a better way for a tree to grow much taller? Will humans (or, more likely, transhumans) some day conduct competitions to genetically engineer trees and other species to lift them far beyond their existing limits? I see every discovery of why plants and animals are limited as constituting a challenge to figure out how to make biological organisms that can exceed their documented limits. Human sports limits will be one focus of competition. But I expect trees, plants, animals to inspire other competitions to lift biological performance.
Before you say this is far fetched, biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey and entrepreneur David Gobel co-founded the Methuselah Mouse Prize which basically incentivizes scientists to genetically engineer mice to make them live longer. If the promoters of this prize succeed in their goal of speeding up the development rejuvenation therapies for humans then you might live long enough to both enter contests to create higher growing trees and to live hundreds of more years to see which tree designs reach new heights.