Coming, bio-engineered trees that produce paper

In a breakthrough for pulp and paper industry and environment lovers alike, researchers have genetically engineered trees that would be easier to break down to produce paper and biofuel.

This would mean using fewer chemicals, less energy and creating fewer environmental pollutants.

One of the largest impediments for the pulp and paper industry as well as the emerging biofuel industry is a polymer found in wood known as lignin.

Lignin makes up a substantial portion of the cell wall of most plants and is a processing impediment for pulp, paper and biofuel.

“Currently the lignin must be removed, a process that requires significant chemicals and energy and causes undesirable waste,” said Shawn Mansfield, a professor of wood science at University of British Columbia in Canada.

Researchers used genetic engineering to modify the lignin to make it easier to break down without adversely affecting the tree's strength.

"We are designing trees to be processed with less energy and fewer chemicals, and ultimately recovering more wood carbohydrate than is currently possible,” Mansfield added.

The genetic modification strategy employed in this study could also be used on other plants like grasses to be used as a new kind of fuel to replace petroleum.

In the future, genetically-modified trees could be planted like an agricultural crop, not in our native forests.

“It is truly a unique achievement to design trees for deconstruction while maintaining their growth potential and strength,” the researchers noted in the study published in the journal Science.

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