Every year, pollen counts in Japan are getting worse. In fact, pollen levels in Tokyo were literally off the charts just a few weeks ago. As a result, for four months out of the year, an estimated 15 to 30 percent of the Japanese population suffers from hay fever.
The tragedy of this situation is that Japan’s pollen problems are caused by its own government which encouraged people to plant cedar trees to meet the growing demand for timber in the 1940s and to replace forests that were destroyed during WWII. Hay fever was actually relatively rare in Japan until the 1960s when the millions of cedar trees began to mature and produce pollen.
As cedar pollen levels continue to climb, Japanese scientists may have found a solution to the problem: pollenless cedar trees.
The Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute announced the development of the world’s first pollenless cedar tree created through genetic recombination. Before, selective breeding yielded low-pollen and pollenless varieties of Japanese cedar, but these trees only grew in certain condition, making a nation-wide solution impossible. By using genetic recombination, Japanese scientists are able to create region-specific varieties of cedar that do not produce pollen, which they are hoping will reduce the amount of pollen in the air come spring time.
For now, the research is still in the experimental stage. According to Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute officials, scientists must still verify the efficacy and safety of the new cedar trees.
Although these new pollenless cedar trees give a flicker of hope to those suffering from hay fever, a declining forestry industry and decreased demand for cedar timber makes getting rid of the existing pollen-producing cedars increasingly difficult. And with more cedars reaching maturity each year, it may be too late for Japanese government officials to find an immediate solution to the problem they created themselves.