- First, they found the gene that codes for the ferulate enzyme in Chinese Angelica (a root that’s used in traditional medicine).
- Then they put the gene into poplar trees and expressed it in tissue that forms lignin.
- Using structural analyses, they observed that poplar samples engineered in this way were able to produce the new monomers, export them to the cell wall, and ultimately incorporate them into the lignin backbone.
- The resulting poplars showed normal growth in greenhouses (pictured, right), but lignin from those plants showed improved digestibility.
- When ground up and subjected to 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit), the lignins just fell apart, releasing twice as many sugars as their wild-type kin do under the same conditions, Science reports.
Designed for Deconstruction: trees for easier pulping, papermaking
— By Janet Fang on April 7, 2014, 11:23 PM PST
Has the cottonwood been researched? Alaska has a prolific softwood poplar that grows extremely fast, has little BTU value, and gets huge and rotten, making good soil amendment, in relatively short time compared to aspen, pine and birch. Moose won't browse it unless there's nothing else to eat, at which point there's probably too many moose for the location, so as a species, it's of little apparent value. Key is 'fast-growing.'
You need to see at the trade-off of using biofuels vs continuing using fossil fuels (which nowadays implies fracking!). This type of research attracts more attention into the use of plants as a source of energy, and I don't think this will be standard in the industry for some few years anyway.
Just as Hemp has been legalized under the farm bill, and 7 states are preparing to begin production, someone would start growing more trees to turn into paper? I guess it's impossible to pay attention to everything happening in the world, but with any luck, turning trees into paper will become a historical footnote.
Oh yeah, back in the 20th century, when we tried to kill the planet, we turned forests into paper....
RICKEXNER has a very, very, very critical point. But it is unlikely industry-sponsored research is interested in negative consequences when there are fortunes to be earned now.
It would be appropriate to give some mention of the possibility of genetic "leakage" to the wild. If this trait got into the poplar, uh, population, it would be very destructive. Trees with weak lignin would not stand up to rot in nature. Please, this blog is supposed to be aware of environmental considerations!
There is another post on Smart Planet today about technology destroying us. The idea is that we're very immature when it comes to understanding unintended consequences.
By the way, 170 degrees Celsius is not over 500 degrees Farenheit. It's about 340 degrees Farenheit.