Eucalyptus developer begins final field trial
FuturaGene, a genetic research and development firm focused on enhancing the eucalyptus tree, has been granted approval to begin a fourth field trial of its genetically modified eucalyptus tree in Brazil.
The Brazilian National Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio) granted the company approval for a fourth trial, and in the coming weeks FuturaGene will begin planting. The goal of the field trial, according to the company, is to evaluate plantation agronomic properties and the biosafety aspects of the plantation.
In order for a eucalyptus plantation consisting of genetically enhanced trees to qualify for the CTNBio’s regulatory dossier that allows market approval in Brazil, FuturaGene has to record and present data on the biosafety concerns of the tree. Starting in 2006, FuturaGene, which also has facilities in China and Israel, began a series of test plantations to acquire the necessary data. The first plantation was planted through a partnership between FuturaGene and Brazilian pulp and paper company Suzano, a partnership that resulted in Suzanao acquiring FuturaGene.
The modified eucalyptus tree developed by FuturaGene alters the structure of the plant cell wall. “The plant cell wall is a rigid barrier surrounding plant cell walls,” explained Stanley Hirsch, CEO of the company. “In order for the plant cell to elongate and divide, this wall must relax and then reform in an ordered manner. We effect changes in the plant cell wall which allow this process to occur more rapidly, thus releasing a rate limiting step on plant growth.”
Following the fourth field trial, FuturaGene hopes to deploy the use of the tree on a commercial scale. According to Hirsch, the company has deployment plans for Brazil. “Suzano owns eucalyptus plantations totalling almost 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres),” he said, adding that FuturaGene has also formed relationships with other entities around the world to address the possibility of planting on more hectares.
The land characteristic requirement for the modified trees is identical to that of a non-modified version, Hirsch said. Certain versions of the tree can produce higher lignin yields, he also said. “But the major energy enhancement comes from producing more biomass per unit of land employed.
Along with private partnership work with Suzano and Bayer CropScience, FuturaGene has also partnered with several academic institutions in the U.S., including Oregon State University, Purdue University, and the University of Arizona. In China, the company has worked with Guangxi Academy of Sciences and the Research Institute of Forestry of the Chinese Academy of Forestry.