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Could trees be engineered to produce rainfall-nucleators?

Could trees be engineered to produce rainfall-nucleators?


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Scientists are using genetic engineering to make trees produce more terpenes. Is it possible to genetically engineer trees to produce more hygroscopic volatile organic compounds? These trees could be used in drought areas to create more rain.


Groundbreaking poplar study shows trees can be genetically engineered not to spread

The largest field-based study of genetically modified forest trees ever conducted has demonstrated that genetic engineering can prevent new seedlings from establishing.

The "containment traits" that Oregon State University researchers engineered in the study are important because of societal concerns over gene flow -- the spread of genetically engineered or exotic and invasive trees or their reproductive cells beyond the boundaries of plantations.

"There's still more to know and more research to be done, but this looks really good," said corresponding author Steve Strauss, distinguished professor of forest biotechnology at OSU. "It's very exciting."

Findings from the study -- which looked at 3,300 poplar trees in a 9-acre tract over seven growing seasons -- were published today in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology.

Poplars are fast growing and the source of many products, from paper to pallets to plywood to frames for upholstered furniture.

In trees like poplars that have female and male individuals, female flowers produce the seeds and male flowers make the pollen needed for fertilization.

Strauss and colleagues in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society assessed a variety of approaches for making both genders of trees sterile, focusing on 13 genes involved in the making of flowers or controlling the onset of reproduction.

Individually and in combination, the genes had their protein function or RNA expression modified with the goal of obtaining sterile flowers or a lack of flowering.

The upshot: Scientists discovered modifications that prevented the trees from producing viable sexual propagules without affecting other traits, and did so reliably year after year. The studies focused on a female, early-flowering poplar that facilitates research, but the genes they targeted are known to affect both pollen and seed and thus should provide general approaches to containment.

In addition to the findings, the research was notable for its scope, duration, and broad network of funders, both government and industry.

"I'm proud that we got the research done," Strauss said. "It took many years and many people doing it, managing it.

"People have this fear that GMO trees will take over the world, but these are containment genes that make taking over the world essentially impossible," he said. "If something is GMO, people assume it's dangerous -- it's guilty until proven safe in the minds of many and in our regulations today. In contrast, scientists say the focus should be on the trait and its value and safety, not the method used.

At the start of the research, Strauss wondered if the trees would look normal or survive or express their new traits stably and reliably. All the answers were a strong yes.

"Will our trees be OK, will they be variable or unpredictable? The trees were fine," he said. "Year after year, the containment traits reliably worked where we got the genetics right. Not all of the constructs worked but that's why you do the research."

Strauss also noted that newer genetic approaches in his laboratory, especially CRISPR-based gene editing, are making the production of reliably contained and improved trees even easier and more efficient.

He pointed out that "the work focused on pollen and seeds, but poplar can also spread vegetatively -- for example by root sprouts. But those are far slower, much narrower in distance, and far easier to control in and around plantations."


Researchers reverse engineer way pine trees produce green chemicals worth billions

Turpentine has traditionally been made from resins drawn from pine trees like these in Florida. In recent decades, much of the resins have been made from fossil fuels. Credit: Florida Memory Project

Washington State University researchers have reverse engineered the way a pine tree produces a resin, which could serve as an environmentally friendly alternative to a range of fossil-fuel based products worth billions of dollars.

Mark Lange and colleagues in the Institute for Biological Chemistry literally dissected the machinery by which loblolly pine produces oleoresin.

Before the arrival of petroleum-derived alternatives in the 1960s, the sticky, fragrant oil-resin mixture was central to the naval stores industry and products ranging from paint and varnish to shoe polish and linoleum.

Meanwhile, the international demand for oleoresins has risen. Naturally occurring oleoresins—from sources like loblolly pine—are often preferred. A 2016 analysis by Grand View Research predicted that global sales of oleoresin will approach $1.7 billion by 2022.

The Lange lab's discovery of how it is made "could inspire new engineering approaches for the production of renewable, green chemicals," says Dutch biologist Harro Bouwmeester in a commentary accompanying Lange's research in the Journal of Experimental Botany.

As natural factories go, said Lange, plants are industry leaders. Humans, he said, produce roughly 3,000 metabolites, the small molecules that occur in human metabolism.

"Plants make hundreds of thousands," he said, "and most of what's out there in terms of chemical diversity is probably unknown. It would probably be in the millions. One of the questions is: Why do plants do that?"

In the case of the loblolly pine, oleoresin is a critical defense against insects and pathogens. While an animal can run from an attacker, a plant has to stand and fight. To do this, the pine produces oleoresins so toxic that the plant has to store them in specialized structures, called resin ducts, to keep from poisoning itself.

To see how oleoresin is made, Lange concentrated on cells around the ducts, cutting them out with a laser-equipped microscope.

"Essentially what you do is draw around the area that you want to cut out and then the laser follows what you've been drawing and blasts it off," Lange said.

Fittingly, Lange did this in WSU's Franceschi Microscopy and Imaging Center, whose namesake, the late Vincent R. Franceschi, also studied resin ducts and their role in defending a conifer from pests.

Lange compared cells near the resin ducts with cells further away, looking for the expression of genes that would trigger oleoresin production.

Using the amplified genes from several thousand cells, Lange and his colleagues identified genetic sequences known to produce certain enzymes and matched them to reactions that could lead to the creation of oleoresin.

"We are trying to understand the biochemical reactions that lead from a simple imported carbon source to a complex mixture of oleoresin and products," Lange said. "That's the factory."

With a better knowledge of the reactions, and their genetic underpinnings, researchers can screen trees for genes that make them better producers of the resin. Or they could replicate the resin-producing metabolic pathway in other organisms.

"That could be an E. coli or a yeast, something of that kind, and then you can make specific chemicals from there," said Lange.

"Ultimately," said Bouwmeester in his commentary, "this could result in robust pine tree genotypes that can compete with classical oil-based chemistry for the production of green chemicals through forest plantations."


Smart Wood: Bio-Engineering Trees For Specific Purposes

Wood can do some marvelous things. It can be made into cross laminated timber to build skyscrapers up to 30 stories high. It can be used to make paper, insulation, biofuels, and non-petroleum based feedstocks for plastics and medicinal purposes. But not all trees can do all things equally well. Scientists at North Carolina State University have devoted the last 10 years studying the biological triggers that determine the characteristics of trees as they grow.

They have determined that there are 21 pathway genes that control the amount of lignin a tree produces. Lignin is the stuff that gives timber its strength and density — desirable characteristics for structural uses but not so desirable for making biofuels, paper, or pulp. For those applications, the lignin has to be stripped out of the wood, a process that requires high heat and harsh chemicals.

For the past decade, the researchers have been experimenting with switching individual genes on and off to determine what effect they have on growing trees. But they say they can now model the effects of switching all 21 lignin genes on or off in the lab, which will greatly reduce the amount of time needed to “design” trees that are suitable for particular purposes.

“For the first time, we can predict the outcomes of modifying multiple genes involved in lignin biosynthesis, rather than working with a single gene at a time through trial and error, which is a tedious and time-consuming process,” says Jack Wang, assistant professor in NC State’s College of Natural Resources and lead author of a paper about the research in Nature Communications.

“Having a model such as this, which allows us to say if you want this type of wood, here are the genes that you need to modify, is very beneficial, especially when you have an enormous number of possible combinations with 21 pathway genes,” Wang says. “It’s only possible through integrated analysis which allows us to look at this process at a systems level to see how genes, proteins, and other components work together to regulate lignin production.”

The model tracks 25 key wood traits. For timber, density and strength are paramount. Biofuel producers home in on genes linked to high polysaccharide levels, allowing wood to be more easily converted to biodiesel or jet fuel. Pulp and paper producers look for wood with low lignin levels or wood that is more readily hydrolyzed. High lignin woods are novel resources for the production of special value-added phenolic compounds, according to Science Daily.

“The complexity of biological pathways is such that it’s no longer sufficient to look at small-scale, independent analysis of one or two genes,” Wang says. “We should use a systems biology approach to look at entire pathway-wide or organism-wide analysis at a systems level, to understand how individual genes, proteins, and other components work together to regulate a property or a behavior.”

The research could lead to more research, such as how to produce “trees that can be paired with thermophilic bacteria for optimal conversion to biofuels and biochemicals,” Wang says. “We are also looking at this integrative analysis to generate trees specifically tailored for production of nanocellulose fibers to replace petroleum-based materials such as plastic.”


Will Genetically Modified Plants Save Us?

Geoengineering a solution to climate change is risky. Doing nothing might be riskier.

Martin Bunzl is an optimistic pessimist. The Rutgers University professor, who studies the philosophy of science and climate change policy, doesn’t hold out hope that mankind will come up with a way to pull back emissions quickly enough to avoid disaster. But he does believe that a technology capable of pulling more carbon dioxide out of the air could turn things around. He’s not alone on this theoretical limb, but he is one of only a few public intellectuals suggesting that trees might be the once and future answer to our problems.

“Some kind of negative emissions program is inevitably going to be in our future if we want to proceed cautiously,” Bunzl says.

Bunzl spoke Tuesday at a panel discussion hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics on the subject of the role of aerospace industries in potential geoengineering projects, especially solar radiation management schemes that would seek to block out some of the sun’s light in order to cool the planet.

But he’s skeptical that tinkering with the sun will ever seem like a good enough idea to actually attempt. While it would cool the planet, it won’t undo the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, and in fact would inject a new set of risks and uncertainties into the climate system. The social and political barriers such a proposal would have to overcome are nearly inconceivable. Solar radiation management, at best, buys us some time by keeping temperatures a little lower while we figure out how to get the carbon out of the air permanently.

“It’s a plausible stop-gap measure, but it’s a plausible stop-gap measure that faces insurmountable problems with regard to a number of different areas,” says Bunzl. “And by the time we settle the issue, or come to a circumstance in which we think it might be necessary, we will be long, long beyond the area in which we ought to become serious about the long-term program of carbon dioxide removal.”

Bunzl also questions the idea that pulling carbon out of the air with chemical and mechanical systems will somehow one day become cheap enough to make sense on a massive scale. It’s fundamentally easier to put carbon dioxide out into the atmosphere than to call it back. Imagine all the resources and infrastructure that have gone into fossil fuel burning in human history — it would very likely take operations of that magnitude or larger to clean up the mess.

Here’s something that might just work, though: Using the techniques of modern genetic engineering, including CRISPR, to modify global plants so they take up carbon dioxide from the air more efficiently. “This is a seductively interesting option, because you get a self-replicating system which will continue once the changes propagate through living organisms to improve carbon dioxide uptake,” says Bunzl.

Biological systems are already many times more efficient than chemical systems at scrubbing CO2 from air, and there’s reason to believe they could get even better. A team of biochemists in Germany recently developed a new molecular transformation chain that, at least in the lab, is about 25 percent more efficient than the enzyme chain used in photosynthesis. A living system genetically engineered to use this pathway might metabolize carbon dioxide two or three times as fast as it otherwise would, the researchers predict, although this has not been tried and outcomes are uncertain.

But it’s theoretically possible that, if plants genetically modified in this way spread across the Earth, they would be not only enormously useful in pulling carbon from the air for biofuel, but also helpful for carbon capture and storage. Biomass produced by the plants might be sequestered long term either through extensive deep root systems, or through some sort of sequestration project.

This, of course, would be risky in a lot of the same ways that other geoengineering schemes are — namely, unintended and unpredictable consequences that may negatively impact ecosystems and communities. But the risks of trying may end up being far more manageable than the risks of doing nothing, a fact that the U.S. government acknowledged formally for the first time this week.

But how do you gain social approval for a program of mass dispersal of genetically modified organisms that cannot be called back once they are out in the world, and will certainly displace non-modified plants and crops?

“If you think there are problems with genetically modified organisms in the popular mind in terms of food consumption, imagine the kind of dissatisfaction that would have to be overcome in order to implement this at a broad base level,” says Bunzl.

M.I.T. professor Kevin Esvelt has one idea for how it may be done. He’s not working on getting plants to take up more carbon, but on genetically engineering immunity to tick-born bacteria into white-footed mice in a bold plan eradicate Lyme disease. But the social and political hurdles are similar, and he has an equally bold plan to overcome them: change the nature of science itself.

“I want to drag my entire field kicking and screaming into the open,” he told the New Yorker. The key, he says, is absolute transparency and communication, and it’s a philosophy he’s putting into action through regular community meetings with the people of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, where he hopes to one day release his genetically modified mice in the first field experiment.

That day is years away, but Esvelt is betting that his only hope for ultimately being able to do this work is in engaging the public right through the scientific process, so that they feel some ownership over the project and its potential risks and benefits.

This same logic may apply to super-plants designed to consume more carbon, though on a much grander scale. It’s one thing to convince an island of 10,000 people, already terrified of Lyme disease, to accept the risks that might come with releasing these genetically modified mice into their environment. It will be quite another to come to any sort of global consensus on the dissemination of an army of amped up photosynthesizers across the planet.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be worth a shot. Following the precautionary principle, Bunzl and Esvelt agree, is a very bad option.

“We say if it’s risky we just shouldn’t do it,” explains Esvelt. “And that’s fine, so long as you’re standing on firm ground. But that’s the thing: we’re not standing on firm ground. And the greatest danger we could face is to assume that not doing anything to nature is the safest course.”


Chloroplastic metabolic engineering coupled with isoprenoid pool enhancement for committed taxanes biosynthesis in Nicotiana benthamiana

Production of the anticancer drug Taxol and its precursors in heterologous hosts is more sustainable than extraction from tissues of yew trees or chemical synthesis. Although attempts to engineer the Taxol pathway in microbes have made significant progress, challenges such as functional expression of plant P450 enzymes remain to be addressed. Here, we introduce taxadiene synthase, taxadiene-5α-hydroxylase, and cytochrome P450 reductase in a high biomass plant Nicotiana benthamiana. Using a chloroplastic compartmentalized metabolic engineering strategy, combined with enhancement of isoprenoid precursors, we show that the engineered plants can produce taxadiene and taxadiene-5α-ol, the committed taxol intermediates, at 56.6 μg g -1 FW and 1.3 μg g -1 FW, respectively. In addition to the tools and strategies reported here, this study highlights the potential of Nicotiana spp. as an alternative platform for Taxol production.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing interests.

Figures

Scheme of Taxol biosynthesis. DMAPP,…

Scheme of Taxol biosynthesis. DMAPP, dimethylallyl diphosphate IPP, isopentenyl diphosphate GGPP, geranylgeranyl diphosphate…

Expression of Taxus-originated proteins and…

Expression of Taxus-originated proteins and committed taxadiene production in N. benthamiana . a…

Intracellular organelle localization and targeting…

Intracellular organelle localization and targeting of heterologous proteins. Fluorescence labeling of the fusion…

Production of mono-oxygenated taxanes by…

Production of mono-oxygenated taxanes by compartmentalized metabolic engineering. a Gene constructs used to…

Identification of rate-limiting steps in…

Identification of rate-limiting steps in isoprenoid pathway and precursor enhancement for taxadiene biosynthesis.…

Chloroplastic metabolic engineering coupled with…

Chloroplastic metabolic engineering coupled with isoprenoid pool enhancement for committed Taxol intermediates in…


Now, bioengineered trees are taking root

Transgenic poplars could make China a big player in lumber. But some experts worry about effects on nature.

Scattered across at least seven provinces in China are more than 1 million common poplar trees with an uncommon bite. They can kill the insects that nibble their leaves. Their unusual defensive system is a genetically engineered bomb: Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, a naturally occurring toxin inserted into the tree's DNA. Other such transgenic species, such as the larch and walnut, are in the works, Chinese researchers report.

Such moves are shaking up the twin worlds of forestry and environmentalism. Transgenic trees are reaching the threshold of commercialization - a point bioengineered crops reached in the 1980s, observers say. This time, though, it's not the United States leading the charge, it's China.

Though little reported in the West, China's swan dive into large-scale transgenic forestry is essentially the first commercial-scale deployment of genetically engineered (GE) trees in the world, experts say. That could one day mean a potent new competitor to the lumber and paper industries. It also may mean that cutting-edge GE tree research in the US will fall behind, hobbled by regulation and public protest. It also puts decisions about a controversial - and, some say, potentially dangerous - technology into the hands of an authoritarian government, with less oversight and fewer technical controls than in the West.

"What the Chinese have done, planting [genetically engineered] trees across hundreds, maybe thousands, of acres, hasn't been done anywhere else in the world," says Yousry El-Kassaby, a forest geneticist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. "It marks a shift in the center of gravity away from the US, where there's a lot of genetic engineering tree research, but much of it is restricted to the labs or very regulated small field trials."

The case for GE trees seems straightforward. Faster-growing species can produce more lumber and paper in shorter time, which makes them a cheaper raw material. Supertree plantations could also mean less disturbance of natural forests - an environmental plus.

Scientists can "develop faster-growing trees, trees that produce more biomass that can be converted to fuels, and trees that can sequester more carbon from the atmosphere or be used to clean up waste sites," said Spencer Abraham, then US secretary of Energy, last fall.

Proponents also tout the technology as something that can be used to return vanishing species such as the American chestnut to the American landscape, by modifying its genetic makeup to defeat a devastating blight.

But there's a big catch, experts warn. Trees are perennial plants that produce large quantities of pollen released far higher into the air than ordinary crops. This "gene drift" in crops has caused problems as large seed companies have sued US and Canadian farmers for illegally using GE seeds. The farmers claimed their crops were contaminated by drifting pollen, but to no avail. A study last year by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that seeds of traditional varieties of corn, soybeans, and canola "are pervasively contaminated" with low levels of DNA from genetically engineered varieties of those crops.

If DNA can spread so broadly from GE crops a few feet high, there's no telling what will happen with pollen from trees 50 to 100 feet high or more, experts say. For example: Pollen from GE conifer trees can blow more than a thousand miles, new research at Duke University shows.

The potential for genetic contamination of forests - and potential rewards from using GE trees - are enormous, experts say. "For the first time, we have the ability to put a bacteria or even a fish gene into a tree," says Robert Jackson, professor of biology and director of Duke University's Center on Global Change. "Some make that a moral issue. Is it morally right? Another question is: Is it smart - or, maybe, is it dangerous?"

Indeed, the idea of releasing GE trees into the wild sends shudders through Alyx Perry of the Southern Forests Network, a coalition of loggers, landowners, and environmentalists. "Our conclusion is that the genetically engineered trees will inevitably contaminate nongenetically engineered stands of trees."

That, in turn, could lead to millions of acres of infertile private timber, possibly lacking enough lignin (a wood-strengthening substance) needed to be saw timber, Ms. Perry says. Combined with internal pesticide production in pine and poplar trees in the wild, it could lead to forests unable to reproduce, produce food for animals, or create marketable timber.

In the US, at least 69 field-test permits are in effect for three GE tree species - pine, poplar, and walnut. Most of those occupy two acres or less, says the US Department of Agriculture. Under USDA rules, such trees are closely monitored and not permitted to reach the flowering and pollination stage. So far, just one GE variety, a Hawaiian papaya, has been approved to be grown commercially. But commercialization is moving forward. In January 2004, the USDA announced its "intention to update and strengthen" biotechnology regulations for GE organisms, which some say is a key shift. And field research trials for GE trees in the US, including those conducted by ArborGen, a forestry-research firm in Summerville, S.C., have surged since 1997. ArborGen has been approved to conduct dozens of field trials with pine and poplar species genetically engineered for altered fertility, lignin levels, and other features, USDA database records show.

"We certainly see that genetic engineering in a plantation setting . could play a big part in meeting world demand," says Les Pearson, ArborGen's director of regulatory affairs. ArborGen's first tree is at least seven years away from commercialization, he adds. Others see GE trees coming sooner.

"Government and industry are basically looking at what they can do to finalize regulations to streamline commercial release," says Neil Carmen of the Sierra Club. "We're talking about potentially millions of acres of genetically engineered trees."

At least two other transgenic tree species, a plum and another papaya, are undergoing USDA review. More than 30 species of GE trees - including 20 species valuable for timber or paper and pulp - are being developed, Dr. Carmen says. Ironically, Hawaiian farmers say the approved GE papaya has already contaminated groves, he adds.

"The regulation of this whole thing is lagging the technology," says Roger Sedjo, director of the forest economics and policy program at Resources for the Future, a Washington policy think tank. "A lot of countries are pursuing research in the area and some of it is coming to fruition. What we don't have is a global standard."

In Brazil, for example, researchers have embarked on large-scale research to develop a GE eucalyptus tree. The idea is to make the slow-growing Australian native mature faster and resistant to disease.

"We're certainly not ready to understand all of the risks yet," says Duke's Dr. Jackson. "There is immense commercial pressure to move ahead with this. And frankly, it's pretty easy to outline the economic benefits, but much more difficult to outline the long-term costs and what they will be - and how long they'll last if things go wrong."

Trees are the world's largest and oldest plants. They cover nearly a third of the world's land surface (excluding Antarctica and Greenland). They blanketed two-thirds of the surface before humans began to farm.

• The double-coconut palm in the Seychelles boasts the largest tree seed: 50 pounds.

• California boasts the world's tallest trees, the redwoods, and the oldest, bristlecone pines. The former can grow 360 feet tall. The latter have been known to live more than 4,000 years. The average city tree lasts eight years.

• By turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, trees replenish the atmosphere. Two mature trees can produce enough oxygen for a family of four.

• Over one year, a tree can absorb the carbon created by a car driven 26,000 miles.

Sources: World Book United Nations Earth Policy Institute International Society of Arboriculture


Non-native species

ArborGen is seeking regulatory approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for eucalyptus trees genetically engineered to tolerate freezing temperatures. If approved, the company will sell hundreds of millions of seedlings from the area stretching from South Carolina to Florida to Texas.

In Brazil, FuturaGene has requested approval from CTNBio, the Brazilian biosafety regulatory agency, to release GE eucalyptus trees there. The World Rainforest Movement is working with STOP GE Trees to campaign against the expansion of vast industrial tree monocultures, most of which are fast-growing eucalyptus, pine and acacia species, but also rubber and oil palm destined to produce paper, palm oil and rubber products.

“Among the supposed benefits, plantation promoters argue that they create thousands of jobs, as well as other social benefits such as building schools and health posts,” said Teresa Perez, a Uruguay-based coordinator for the World Rainforest Movement.

In terms of the jobs promised, the plantations are heavily mechanized and therefore do not create many jobs, Perez told MintPress, adding that the jobs created are seasonal, with small salaries and poor working conditions.

Moreover, these plantations consume vast amounts of water and soil nutrients. Thus, surrounding communities see their water resources dwindle and the water available to them is often contaminated by toxic substances found in monocultures. The destruction of local ecosystems to clear room for plantations results in a loss of biodiversity.

“Although the promoters — corporations, governments, investment agencies — of such monocultures argue that setting up plantations bring many benefits both in terms of the environment and also in social terms, what we have learned from the local communities whose lands have been occupied by plantations is that the reality is far from the promises made,” Perez said.

Tree plantations are a source of deforestation in several countries, Perez noted.

“In many cases the lands occupied are lands that have been traditionally used by communities that, without being consulted, see how their lands are destroyed and occupied by monocultures,” she said. “They lose the lands where they have traditionally planted their crops for self consumption, they lose the forests where they traditionally hunt and gather medicinal plants.”

Yet the effects on these communities aren’t only environmental. Perez explained that traditional gender roles dictate that when the forest is gone and plantations are established, indigenous men and women suffer in different ways. In general, the effects are more severe for women.

“For example, women in Africa, Asia and Latin America are responsible for food production, they do the farming,” Perez said. “They are also responsible for collecting medicinal plants and herbs from the forests, and also for water collection. If the forest is destroyed, women will see their workload increased, as they will have to walk greater distances to access the forest’s water source and obtain what they need.”

When these communities can no longer sustain themselves through agricultural pursuits, they need to find ways to feed their families, she said. In these situations, women will sometimes work for the plantations, earning meager salaries that barely cover their families’ needs.

“Women work on the plantations, often with their children, isolated from their community, exposed to herbicides, pesticides and sexual abuse,” IEN’s McManama said. “These women and children, unprotected now, are often abused.”

Meanwhile, when men are unable to hunt and fish, they can’t support their families the way they’ve done for generations, McManama said, adding that they often leave in search of work.

These forests — particularly in South America — are supposed to be preserved for carbon sequestration, McManama said.

“Always, these people are evicted from their lands,” she said. “They end up in horrible shanty towns. Developed countries continue using industry because they bought their carbon credits. It has accelerated beyond imagination. The eucalyptus leaves are poisonous and fall to the ground. Nothing else lives when poison is in the ground.”

Jay Burney, media coordinator for STOP GE Trees, said there’s a dichotomy between what’s good for humans and what’s good for business.

“Humans do not want this,” Burney told MintPress. “Business does. It’s pushed as a renewable energy but there are a lot of holes in it. It’s not a real solution. It’s ecocide. Plantations mean clear cutting, which means displacing people. It’s a total land grab.”


Reverse engineering reveals pine tree’s chemical production — worth billions

By Eric Sorensen, WSU News

Washington State University researchers have reverse engineered the way a pine tree produces a resin, which could serve as an environmentally friendly alternative to a range of fossil‑fuel based products worth billions of dollars.

Mark Lange and colleagues in the Institute for Biological Chemistry literally dissected the machinery by which loblolly pine produces oleoresin.

Before the arrival of petroleum-derived alternatives in the 1960s, the sticky, fragrant oil‑resin mixture was central to the naval stores industry and products ranging from paint and varnish to shoe polish and linoleum.

Meanwhile, the international demand for oleoresins has risen. Naturally occurring oleoresins ― from sources like loblolly pine ― are often preferred. A 2016 analysis by Grand View Research predicted that global sales of oleoresin will approach $1.7 billion by 2022.

The Lange lab’s discovery of how it is made “could inspire new engineering approaches for the production of renewable, green chemicals,” says Dutch biologist Harro Bouwmeester in a commentary accompanying Lange’s research in the Journal of Experimental Botany.

As natural factories go, said Lange, plants are industry leaders. Humans, he said, produce roughly 3,000 metabolites, the small molecules that occur in human metabolism.

“Plants make hundreds of thousands,” he said, “and most of what’s out there in terms of chemical diversity is probably unknown. It would probably be in the millions. One of the questions is: Why do plants do that?”

Historic photo of man chipping a loblolly pine tree in Florida, circa 1910-20. Workers would cut away large chunks of bark from tree trunks, causing the flow of oleoresin, which was collected in pans placed below.

In the case of the loblolly pine, oleoresin is a critical defense against insects and pathogens. While an animal can run from an attacker, a plant has to stand and fight. To do this, the pine produces oleoresins so toxic that the plant has to store them in specialized structures, called resin ducts, to keep from poisoning itself.

To see how oleoresin is made, Lange concentrated on cells around the ducts, cutting them out with a laser-equipped microscope.

“Essentially what you do is draw around the area that you want to cut out and then the laser follows what you’ve been drawing and blasts it off,” Lange said.

Fittingly, Lange did this in WSU’s Franceschi Microscopy and Imaging Center, whose namesake, the late Vincent R. Franceschi, also studied resin ducts and their role in defending a conifer from pests.

Lange compared cells near the resin ducts with cells further away, looking for the expression of genes that would trigger oleoresin production.

Using the amplified genes from several thousand cells, Lange and his colleagues identified genetic sequences known to produce certain enzymes and matched them to reactions that could lead to the creation of oleoresin.

“We are trying to understand the biochemical reactions that lead from a simple imported carbon source to a complex mixture of oleoresin and products,” Lange said. “That’s the factory.”

A more efficient and less damaging method for extracting oleoresins, known as borehole tapping, has been developed by the University of Florida. See video at borehole tapping method .

With a better knowledge of the reactions, and their genetic underpinnings, researchers can screen trees for genes that make them better producers of the resin. Or they could replicate the resin-producing metabolic pathway in other organisms.

“That could be an E. coli or a yeast, something of that kind, and then you can make specific chemicals from there,” said Lange.

“Ultimately,” said Bouwmeester in his commentary, “this could result in robust pine tree genotypes that can compete with classical oil‑based chemistry for the production of green chemicals through forest plantations.”


Brazilian transgenic eucalyptus trees that produce more wood target of global activists

Brazilian eucalyptus trees Credit: Jan Weyer

Viewed from above, Brazil’s orderly eucalyptus plantations offer a stark contrast to the hurly-burly of surrounding native forests. The trees, lined up like regiments of soldiers on 3.5 million hectares around the country, have been bred over decades to grow quickly.

On September 4, a public hearing will consider bringing an even more vigorous recruit into the ranks: genetically engineered eucalyptus that produces around 20 percent more wood than conventional trees and is ready for harvest in five and a half years instead of seven. Brazilian regulators are evaluating the trees for commercial release a decision could come as early as the end of this year.

Researchers, businesses and activists are watching closely. Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.) — native to Australia — is grown on about 20 million hectares throughout the tropics and subtropics, and approval of the genetically engineered trees in Brazil could encourage their adoption elsewhere.

“It would have ripple effects worldwide,” says Zander Myburg, who studies the genetics of forest trees at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. “Everybody will pay attention.”

So far, no genetically modified tree from a major commercial species has been deployed on a large scale. The ubiquity of eucalyptus makes Brazil’s decision on the modified trees a special concern to environmental activists who oppose the use of genetically modified crops.

“They have become the target of very intensive and emotionally charged debate particularly among the NGOs and nature constituencies,” says Walter Kollert, a forestry officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome.

Read full original article: Brazil considers transgenic trees


Watch the video: Genetically Engineered Trees Could Fight the Climate Crisis (October 2022).