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Field and pulping performances of transgenic trees with altered lignification

Abstract

The agronomic and pulping performance of transgenic trees with altered lignin has been evaluated in duplicated, long-term field trials. Poplars expressing cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase (CAD) or caffeate/5-hydroxy-ferulate O-methyltransferase (COMT) antisense transgenes were grown for four years at two sites, in France and England. The trees remained healthy throughout the trial. Growth indicators and interactions with insects were normal. No changes in soil microbial communities were detected beneath the transgenic trees. The expected modifications to lignin were maintained in the transgenics over four years, at both sites. Kraft pulping of tree trunks showed that the reduced-CAD lines had improved characteristics, allowing easier delignification, using smaller amounts of chemicals, while yielding more high-quality pulp. This work highlights the potential of engineering wood quality for more environmentally benign papermaking without interfering with tree growth or fitness.

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Figure 1: Field trials of transgenic poplars modified in lignin biosynthesis.
Figure 2: Agronomic traits of field-grown transgenic poplars modified in lignin biosynthesis.
Figure 3: Biological interactions of lignin-modified transgenic poplars in the Jealott's Hill trial.
Figure 4: COMT and CAD activity in field-grown transgenic poplars.
Figure 5: Lignin content and structure in field-grown transgenic poplars from both trials.
Figure 6: Kraft pulping characteristics of field-grown transgenic poplars.

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Acknowledgements

We thank technical staff who managed both field trials and Frédéric Legée for Klason determinations. Field trials were funded by the European Commission (FAIR, CT95-0424), soil analyses by the Natural Environment Research Council, and decomposition work by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

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Correspondence to Claire Halpin.

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Pilate, G., Guiney, E., Holt, K. et al. Field and pulping performances of transgenic trees with altered lignification. Nat Biotechnol 20, 607–612 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt0602-607

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