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2-Plants: Weakened GE poplars to reduce pollution

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TITLE:  'Paper' trees will cut pollution
SOURCE: The Times, London, by Nick Nuttall
DATE:   June 8, 1999

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'Paper' trees will cut pollution

TREES designed to cut the pollution caused by paper-making were
yesterday hailed as the latest advance of genetic modification.
Given the failure of the paperless office to live up to its name,
scientists said that the GM poplar would bring cleaner rivers by
reducing the need for chemicals in paper production. The poplars
have a weakened version of lignin, the strengthening agent which
has to be broken down in the traditional pulping process by
powerful chemicals. The process is also energy-intensive and
adds to the threat of global warming from the millions of tonnes
of paper being processed every year. Professor Marc Van Montagu,
of the University of Ghent in Belgium, said yesterday that the GM
trees promised to cut the chemical and energy bill of paper
making by a fifth. "The technology means you can separate the
cellulose from the lignin much easier," he said.

However, the outcry in Europe against GM crops means companies
developing the poplar may grow it commercially only in Asia or
the Americas, the professor noted. This was despite there being
no risk of cross pollination, as the trees grown for pulp are all
female. Speaking at Phytosfere 99 in Rome, a European Commission-
funded conference where delegates have come from plant breeding
centres and universities across Europe, Professor Van Montagu
said: "It is becoming increasingly difficult to commercialise
these developments here. It will not be used in Europe because
people are against transgenic plants. So the trees will be
planted in China or America. We are in discussions with the
Chinese." The breakthrough, which researchers believe can also be
used in other species, including spruce, has been made with
Zeneca, the British biotechnology company. 

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