Powered by

Home Environment Stories

Genetically modified trees could make paper more sustainable

A significant advance, a group of scientists have genetically modified trees to address environmental concerns related to paper production.

By Ground Report
New Update
Genetically modified trees could make paper more sustainable

In a significant advance, a group of scientists have genetically modified trees to address environmental concerns related to paper production. The researchers in new research published in the journal Science, sought to show that precise genetic engineering could lead to better wood composition, reducing the need for harmful chemicals and energy-intensive processes involved in making paper.

Paper production's environmental concerns

Paper production, which contributes to climate change, has long been associated with chemical waste and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The process involves cutting and dissolving the wood's lignin, leading to the creation of substantial chemical waste and significant carbon dioxide emissions when burning the lignin. Science reports that paper production is annually responsible for more than 150 million tons of GHG emissions.

Jack Wang, one of the study's authors and an adjunct professor in North Carolina State University's College of Natural Sciences and Resources, explained that modifying lignin in ways compatible with production processing applications has been challenging due to the complexity of the polymers within the wood.

To address this problem, the scientists used the CRISPR gene-editing technique, which allowed them to precisely alter specific segments of DNA in poplar trees. By reducing lignin content and increasing carbohydrates, his goal was to improve papermaking efficiency and minimize waste and pollution.

The team used predictive machine learning models to analyze 70,000 potential gene-editing strategies, eventually narrowing them down to fewer than 350. Through follow-up experiments, they identified seven effective strategies, targeting multiple gene editing simultaneously.

CRISPR-edited poplars: Enhanced wood composition

Creating 174 different lines of poplars using CRISPR gene editing, the scientists grew them in a greenhouse for six months. After analyzing the composition of the wood, they found that the edited trees had significantly less lignin and higher carbohydrate content. Some trees were even half the size of normal poplars, while showing a 228% increase in carbohydrate content per lignin.

These gene-edited trees have a remarkable potential impact on paper production. By utilizing these varieties of trees, a typical paper mill could increase its paper production by 40% and decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, ultimately resulting in an approximately $1 billion increase in revenue over the life of the factory.

The innovative development promises to make paper production more sustainable and less polluting. The researchers believe that this engineered wood could significantly improve fiber production processes, offering bioeconomic opportunities and substantial environmental benefits.

This is not the first time that scientists have explored genetic modifications in trees. In 2022, researchers engineered a new type of tree that effectively captures and stores atmospheric carbon for long periods. Additionally, scientists have successfully developed lab-grown wood, providing a potential alternative to wood products that drive deforestation.

Keep Reading

You can connect with Ground Report on FacebookTwitterKoo AppInstagram, and Whatsapp and Subscribe to our YouTube channel. For suggestions and writeups mail us at [email protected]