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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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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Author notes

    • Wolfgang Schuch

    Current address: CellFor, Suite 408, The Marine Building, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

    • Claire Halpin

    Current address: Division of Environmental and Applied Biology, University of Dundee, DD1 4HN, UK.


  1. Unité Amélioration, Génétique et Physiologie Forestières, INRA Orléans, BP 20619, Ardon, 45166 Olivet, France.

    • Gilles Pilate
    • , Jean-Charles Leplé
    •  & Daniel Cornu
  2. Syngenta, Jealott's Hill International Research Centre, Bracknell, Berkshire RG42 6EY, UK.

    • Emma Guiney
    • , Karen Holt
    • , Wolfgang Schuch
    •  & Claire Halpin
  3. Centre Technique du Papier, BP251, 38044 Grenoble, Cedex 9, France.

    • Michel Petit-Conil
  4. Chimie Biologique, INRA-INA-PG, 78850 Thiverval-Grignon, France.

    • Catherine Lapierre
    • , Brigitte Pollet
    •  & Isabelle Mila
  5. Department of Environmental Science, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, UK.

    • Elizabeth A. Webster
    •  & David W. Hopkins
  6. Department of Soil Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden.

    • Håkan G. Marstorp
  7. Biologie Cellulaire, INRA, 78026 Versailles cedex, France.

    • Lise Jouanin
  8. Department of Plant Genetics, Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), Ledeganckstraat 35, 9000 Gent, Belgium.

    • Wout Boerjan


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Correspondence to Claire Halpin.

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