GE Trees for Biofuels: Risk Assessment Lacking

NOTE: IN the two articles below, we find the same old propaganda we’ve heard about GM trees (also called GE trees or GMO trees) since the late 1990s.  IN the first article about GM poplars, there is once again there is no attention paid to the ecological impacts of the inevitable and irreversible genetic contamination of native poplar trees with the engineered traits from these “successful” GE poplars.  They are low-lignin, meaning they have been genetically engineered to supress natural lignin production.  So?  Well, no problem, except that lignin is what protects trees from disease, insect infestation, animal browsing, wind, etc.  Will these trees have so-called “stacked” genetic traits that also make them resistant to disease or insects?  If so, these trees could have a host of unpredictable effects, even on human health.  The health impact of inhaling pollen from trees genetically engineered to produce insecticide in every one of their cells has not been adequately studied.  Preliminary findings, however, reveal potentially serious problems.

Article two trumpets about the promise of GE eucalyptus for biofuels.  Again, no attention paid to the ecological impacts of releasing an invasive, flammable and water-sucking tree into the environment by the millions.

These “scientists” are very good at playing up the successes, but so very bad at assessing the risks–both ecological and social.

–Anne Petermann for the GJEP Team

 

From GENET NEws

Article One:   INITIAL FIELD TEST RESULTS GM POPLARS: BIOETHANOL YIELD ALMOST DOUBLED

SOURCE:  Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie, Belgium (VIB) http://www.vib.be/en/news/Pages/Initial-field-test-results-GM-poplars-bioethanol-yield-almost-doubled.aspx

DATE:    19.05.2011

SUMMARY: “The yield of bio-ethanol from the wood of GM poplar trees from a VIB field trial is up to 81% higher than non-modified poplars VIB-UGent researcher Wout Boerjan presented these results at the international conference “Bioenergy Trees in Nancy, France. “This is just the beginning. The results of the field test confirm that we are on the right track. Further research will allow us to select poplar varieties that are even better suited for bio-ethanol production,‰ said Wout Boerjan from VIB and Ghent University.”

—– archive: http://www.genet-info.org/information-services.html —–

INITIAL FIELD TEST RESULTS GM POPLARS: BIOETHANOL YIELD ALMOST DOUBLED

Nancy, France, May 19, 2011 – The yield of bio-ethanol from the wood of GM poplar trees from a VIB field trial is up to 81% higher than non-modified poplars VIB-UGent researcher Wout Boerjan presented these results at the international conference ‰Bioenergy Trees in Nancy, France.

“This is just the beginning. The results of the field test confirm that we are on the right track. Further research will allow us to select poplar varieties that are even better suited for bio-ethanol production,” said Wout Boerjan from VIB and Ghent University.

Poplars have great potential as a source for biofuels such as bio-ethanol. They require, despite their rapid growth, little energy or fertilizer and can grow on poor soils that are not suited for food production. Bio-ethanol can be used to replace conventional gasoline.

At present, it is difficult to produce bio-ethanol from wood. Lignin, a plant polymer that holds together the fibers in wood, physically hinders the breakdown of these fibers into glucose – the basis of ethanol production. To make the conversion of wood into bio-ethanol more efficient, scientists from VIB selected trees with a reduced production of lignin. To achieve this, they partially suppressed a gene (CCR) involved in the production of lignin.

The trees were planted in 2009 and first cut in 2010. During the past year, the composition of the wood was examined and in collaboration with researchers in the U.S. and the Ghent University the conversion to bio-ethanol was studied. The results now clearly show that lower lignin production leads to a higher yield of bio-ethanol. Per gram of dry wood the yield of bio-ethanol from the genetically modified trees was up to 81% higher than for trees with unmodified lignin.

Participating research groups

Wout Boerjan’s research fits into the spearhead program Biotechnology for a Sustainable Economy of Ghent University, which wants to establish a link between the production of biomass (green biotechnology) and their processing on an industrial scale (white biotechnology). The project is in collaboration with Nicholas Santoro of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) and Wim Soetaert of Ghent University and Bio Pilot Plant Base Europe.

Conference on Bioenergy Trees 17-19 May 2011: http://www.newphytologist.org/bioenergy/

Background info: http://www.vib.be/en/news/Pages/The-Poplar-Files.aspx

 

Article Two: NREL studies promising eucalyptus lines for biofuels:  

http://www.biofuels-news.com/industry_news.php?item_id=3549

 
6 May 2011

Eucalyptus has been found to be a promising option as a biomass feedstock for the production of liquid fuel, as researchers from the US Department of Energy’s (DoE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have identified a tree that releases more than twice the usual amount of sugar.

 
The trees being studied by NREL are lignin-modified eucalyptus lines that have been developed for research by ArborGen of Summerville, South Carolina in the US.

 
‘What makes this research particularly interesting is the increased ease with which the sugars are released,’ highlights Angela Ziebell of NREL. ‘The challenge is not just how much sugar a plant contains, but whether or not the plant will release that sugar without excessive processing. That is what makes it valuable as a liquid fuels source.

 
‘We think the result of this technology may increase the potential of eucalyptus as a biomass source for liquid fuels. This result is particularly exciting given that efficient sugar release from plants is an obstacle to achieving affordable biofuels.’

 
‘Through genetic modification, ArborGen has been able to alter the lignin content of a tree species, making the sugar much more accessible,’ adds Maud Hinchee, chief science officer of ArborGen.

 
In order to overcome the issues associated with releasing sugars, including cost and environmental impact, ArborGen scientists have developed a low lignin eucalyptus: E. grandis x E. urophylla.

 
Using plant biotechnology, the modifications were made at two points in the lignin biosynthetic pathway, with the largest increase in sugar release coming from cinnamate-4-hydroxlase (C4H down-regulation). C4H lines have an estimated biomass productivity of 10 dry tonnes per acre per year, with the potential to produce about 1,000 gallons of biofuels per acre.

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