VIB has received permission from the federal government for a four-year field trial with poplars with a modified wood composition.
Wood mainly consists of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. The latter is a complex polymer that is intertwined with the cellulose and hemicellulose fibers as a kind of glue. In the modified poplars, one of the molecules involved in the production of lignin, the CSE enzyme, is expressed less. As a result, less lignin is produced and the composition of the lignin polymer is slightly different. Together, this ensures that it takes less effort to break down the wood and convert it into useful substances such as bio-ethanol.
Increase biomass potential
The field trial is part of the research by prof. Wout Boerjan, dr. Barbara De Meester, and dr. Tathiane Mota (VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology) into the potential of biomass derived from plants as renewable and carbon-neutral raw material for the production of bioenergy and biobased products. For these field trials, VIB collaborates with ILVO and the trial will be done on one of ILVO’s fields in Wetteren.
This will be the third field trial that VIB is carrying out with genetically modified poplars with a modified wood composition. The difference between the three field trials is that each time a different gene involved in the production of lignin has been suppressed in the poplar DNA, each with slightly different effects in the tree.
Different strategies for different solutions
All these field trials are part of the search for genetic changes that change the wood composition in a favorable and stable way, without having a negative impact on the growth of the trees. The effects on the growth of the trees are difficult to study in a greenhouse. There, the trees grow vertically upwards while the stems remain thin. Only when the trees are exposed to weather, wind, seasons, and a real soil, the researchers can determine the effects of the changes on growth. The effects on the composition of the wood can also be different outside. Hence the field trial.
On the international stage
Prof. Boerjan will discuss work of his research group at the VIB conference 'Plant Science for Climate Emergency' (7 – 8 June) where the importance of plant science – including genetic modification – in the fight against climate change will be the central focus. Besides Prof. Boerjan, over twenty international innovators will present the latest developments in plant science that can provide solutions for the climate challenges we are facing.
More info on Conference about Plant Science for Climate Emergency