Are GM trees ready to turn the paper and pulp industry green?
has the time come for paper and pulp industry to go green? If one is to go by the latest research on genetically modified trees, perhaps yes. Scientists have tested genetically modified (gm) poplar trees and given them thumbs up for their regular use. Using gm poplar trees, they claim, will allow lesser use of polluting chemicals used to treat the pulp before paper is made.
The poplar tree is a species used to produce paper pulp. Paper manufacturing consists mainly of eliminating the lignin, which is a substance present in wood and that turns paper yellow. The chemical and heat treatments generate pollution and can be costly. Surveys conducted by the Delhi-based non-governmental organisation, Centre for Science and environment, had shown in 1999 that even the best of the industries in the business were using as much as 138 tonnes of water and 0.25 tonnes of chemicals to treat just one tonne of paper and generating 139.2 tonnes of wastewater and chemicals in the dirty process.
Using genetic engineering techniques, the researchers have inactivated the genes involved in lignin synthesis in the poplar tree. These genes controlled the synthesis of enzyme cad (cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase), which is involved in the production of the elementary components of lignin. Inactivating the gene of the cad enzyme causes the lignin content in the wood to decrease but also, and more surprisingly, the structure of the lignin to change. The lignin produced consist of shorter chains and are eliminated more easily in the paper production process. One can therefore see how poplar trees under-expressing cad can be of benefit in paper production.
The transgenic trees were grown for four years at two sites, in France and England. The trees remained healthy throughout the trial. Growth indicators and interactions with insects were normal. No changes in soil microbial communities were detected beneath the transgenic trees. The expected modifications to lignin were maintained in the transgenic trees over four years, at both sites. Pulping of tree trunks showed that the reduced-cad lines had improved characteristics, allowing easier delignification, using smaller amounts of chemicals, while yielding more high-quality pulp.
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