Reduced environmental pollution and improved forest plantations productivity

In forestry, researchers at Michigan Tech University made a breakthrough in tree engineering with potentials for reductions in energy, costs, and environmental pollution from pulp mills. Using antisense technology to suppress an enzyme Pt4CLl encoding 4-coumarate: coenzyme A ligase (4CL) in the lignin biosynthetic pathway, these workers have produced GM aspen with a 45% reduction of lignin and a 15% increase in cellulose (Hu et al., 1999). Recently, the same researcher (now at North Carolina State University) and his colleagues have modified the expression of both 4CL and a second gene, CAld5H, and reduced lignin content in transgenics by 45% to 50%, while increasing cellulose by 30%. The transgenic trees also grew faster, thus demonstrating the first successful dual-gene alteration achieved through genetic transformation in forestry (Li et al., 2003).

GM technology can be valuable for tree domestication by making large improvements in tree productivity (Strauss, DiFazio, and Meilan, 2001). Although forest plant plantations account for only 0.2% to 17.1% of forest areas in several southern hemisphere countries, these plantations produce 50% to 95% of those countries' wood production (Nambiar, 1999). Coupled with GM technologies, these plantations can be more productive, thus further reducing the area needed for plantations and the pressure on natural forests, allowing their restoration and conservation.

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