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Why Are Scientists Genetically Modifying Trees?

Why Are Scientists Genetically Modifying Trees?

The Lorax may speak for the trees, but even he might want to stop to listen to researchers’ new plans to genetically alter trees. What may outwardly seem like disconcerting news just might change how paper is made for the better.

The engineered trees would allow manufacturers to create paper significantly easier. Moreover, it’s not just the paper industry that benefits from this change – the effects would be advantageous to the entire planet. Paper created from these special trees would require less energy and fewer chemicals to produce, and the entire process would release fewer pollutants.

How does it work? I’m not a botanist, but I’ll do my best to summarize the science behind the discovery.

Most plants contain lignin, a durable polymer in the cell wall. This tough substance, which makes up around 20-25 percent of a tree, must be removed from the wood before it can be turned into paper. For that reason, a lot of chemicals and fuel are allotted just to break down the lignin, wreaking havoc on the environment.

While experiments attempting to reduce lignin in trees have been ongoing for years now, scientists had difficulty getting their modified trees to grow tall and survive the elements like normal trees. More recently, researchers have found more success in weakening the lignin so that it comes off easier rather than eliminating lignin from plants altogether.

Obviously, people have plenty of reasons to be wary of genetically altering plant life. The good news is that these trees are being engineered not as a potentially dangerous food source, but in order to create paper on which people write. That seems like a reasonable option to explore considering the positive environmental impact. After all, the lowered rate of pollution will benefit the trees in the long term, too – both natural and modified.

Cross-contamination of engineered trees with natural trees is a valid concern, but so long as scientists and industries remain committed to growing the trees in isolated areas, cross-pollination shouldn’t occur. Furthermore, genetically modifying the trees to the point of sterilization would also help prevent these manipulated genes from accidentally spreading in the wild.

Environmentalists can also look forward to the modified trees’ potential reaching beyond paper usage. Since lignin also is an obstacle in create biofuels, scientists expect they can use their recent breakthroughs to create biofuels more easily, as well. That means less pollution twice over.

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Photo Credit: Jiri Brozovsky

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1:52PM PDT on Mar 30, 2015

thanks for sharing

2:18PM PDT on Jul 1, 2014

It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature! Don't genetically modify our trees for paper; create a renewable process to remove the lignin and use it for something else.

8:10PM PDT on Jun 29, 2014

Ignore Charles B. He's a tool of the corporate criminals.

8:08PM PDT on Jun 29, 2014

This article is a whitewash for the Monsanto terrorists. Someone bought into their criminal propaganda.

8:09AM PDT on Apr 12, 2014

"...– the effects would be advantageous to the entire planet..."
NO, GEOs and GMOs ARE NOT SAFE AT ALL & THE ARE NOT ADVANTAGEOUS TO THE ENTIRE PLANET! Responsible person would not say such a thing.

12:12PM PDT on Apr 9, 2014

Industry Hype & Misdirected Science Undercuts Real Energy/Climate Solutions
Genetically Engineering Poplars for Paper and Biofuels Condemned

Washington, DC - Scientists and environmentalists today condemned a recent press release by researchers at the University of British Columbia announcing they have created genetically engineered (GE) poplar trees for paper and biofuel production, opening the prospect of growing these GE trees like an agricultural crop in the future. [1]

The poplars were genetically engineered for altered lignin composition to supposedly make them easier to process into paper and biofuels. Groups, however, warn that manipulation of lignin, and the potential contamination of wild poplars with that trait, could be extremely dangerous. [2]

Lignin is a key structural component of plant cell walls and a major component of soils. [3] It is also the product of millions of years of natural selection favoring sturdy, healthy and resilient plants. GE poplars with altered lignin could have devastating effects on forests, ecosystems, human communities and biodiversity.

Poplars include at least 30 species, are widespread throughout the Northern Hemisphere [4] and have a high potential for genetic dispersal. [5]

"Because they can spread their seed and pollen so far, poplars genetically engineered for paper or biofuels are likely to inevitably and irreversibly contaminate native forests," stated Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justic

3:49AM PDT on Apr 9, 2014

Notée, merci.

12:48AM PDT on Apr 9, 2014

Thank you.

10:22PM PDT on Apr 8, 2014


2:12PM PDT on Apr 8, 2014

“Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?” – Henry Ford

The first bioplastic car was manufactured by the Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, Mich., USA, in August 1941

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