Biotech Updates

GM Poplar Trial Starts in Belgium

August 7, 2009

Belgium's ban on field trials of genetically modified plants is now over. The Flanders Institute of Biotechnology (VIB) has obtained approval from the Belgian federal government for the limited and controlled release of GM poplar trees that produce less lignin and more cellulose. It is the first field trial in the country since 2002.

According to a report by the Europe Biotech News, VIB had to go to the Council of State, Belgium's highest court, to obtain the permission for the field trial. In May 2008, VIB's application for the trial was refused even after it had received approval from the Belgian Biosafety Advisory Council and the regional Flanders Minister of the Environment.

Lignin provides plants with strength and protection against pathogens and pests. However, separating lignin from the energy-rich cellulose can be time consuming and very expensive. Genetically modified plants with altered levels of lignin could be the key to a cheaper and greener way of making ethanol. The poplar trees that the VIB researchers are testing contain 20 percent less lignin and 17 percent more cellulose per gram wood. Greenhouse trials revealed that the transgenic poplar trees produce 50 percent more ethanol than conventional varieties.

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