The GM tree plantations bred to satisfy the world's energy needs

From Global development | The Guardian Thu Nov 15 2012, 11:58:31

Israeli biotech firm says its modified eucalyptus trees can displace the fossil fuel industry

It's a timber company's dream but a horrific industrial vision for others: massive plantations of densely planted GM eucalyptus trees stretching across Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and China, engineered to grow 40% faster for use as paper, as pellets for power stations and as fuel for cars.

The prospect is close, says Stanley Hirsch, chief executive of the Israeli biotech company FuturaGene. All that is missing, he says, are permissions from governments for the trees to be grown commercially, and backing from conservation groups and certification bodies.

FuturaGene has spent 11 years trialling thousands of GM eucalyptus and poplar trees on 100-hectare plots in Israel, China and outside São Paulo in Brazil, and is now at the last stages of the Brazilian regulatory process for commercial planting. Thanks to a gene taken from the common, fast-growing Arabidopsis weed, the company has found a way to alter the structure of plant cell walls to stimulate the natural growth process. The company says its modified eucalyptus trees can grow 5 metres (16ft) a year, with 20%-30% more mass than a normal eucalyptus. In just five and a half years they are 27 metres high.

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