Wood scientists just announced an exciting breakthrough in tree research. They have come up with a way to make more environmentally friendly paper — by genetically modifying trees. And it’s not just the paper industry that will benefit.
First things first: Being a wood scientist sounds like a pretty awesome job. This collaboration between researchers across North America focused on manipulating lignin, a polymer that makes up a substantial portion of the cell wall of most plants and must be removed in order to make wood and biofuel. It takes a lot of fuel and chemicals to remove it too. By genetically modifying the lignin so that it’s easier to break down, the researchers were able to streamline the process.
“We’re designing trees to be processed with less energy and fewer chemicals, and ultimately recovering more wood carbohydrate than is currently possible,” says wood scientist Shawn Mansfield from the University of British Columbia. And once you start thinking beyond the promise of more environmentally friendly paper, the discovery becomes even more exciting. If it’s easier to make biofuel, more people will use biofuel, and pollution will be reduced. The trees will certainly be happy about that. Even if they are genetically modified now. [Science]