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EwaMellerowicz field Credit E MellerowiczEwa Mellerowicz surveys a hybrid aspen plant at an early stage of field trials in Sweden. Photo by courtesy of Ewa Mellerowicz.Scientists in Bio4Energy and academic colleagues have shown in field trials that aspen trees that were genetically modified (GM) to render more input material for making biofuel from wood than their wildtype counterparts, are robust enough to grow at a real-life plantation. The researchers also found that they could extract more such glucose sugar, more easily, from the GM trees, compared with the wildtype.

This is the first time such results have been obtained outside of a research laboratory—that is outside of a greenhouse—according to research leader This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) at Umeå, Sweden.

“The glucose yield was 25 to 30 percent higher in the modified trees compared with the wildtype trees. This is a result obtained without pre-treatment so it means that [the modification helped to] decrease the recalcitrance of the wood and made the raw material easier to transform into sugar”, Mellerowicz told Bio4Energy Communications.

Mellerowicz is one of the principal investigators on the research and development platform Bio4Energy Feedstock and has been in charge of verifying laboratory results in experimental plantations, or field trials, since the start in 2014 at Våxtorp, Sweden. The scientists planted and monitored more than 600 GM hybrid aspen trees, but which had to be harvested on the early side because of the impact of severe drought conditions in the summer of 2018, when all of Europe experienced heat waves.

The results have been published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Plant Science.

Because of the hybrid aspen trees' quick growth over just 5-to-12 years before being harvested, this type of “short-rotation” plantation could be considered an efficient option, when it came to growing energy crops destined for biofuel making. Moreover, Mellerowicz said, the type of biochemical conversion of wood to biofuel implied here could be considered environmentally friendly, because it did not require pre-treatment with harsh chemicals.

“These results are quite unique. We have very good data on bioprocessing in greenhouse trials and now on field growth”, Mellerowicz said.

"Based on this, we can expect a substantial increase in glucose yield per hectare", she concluded.

Relevant scientific article
Derba-Maceluch M, Amini F, Donev EN, Pawar Prashant M-A, Michaud L, Johansson U, Albrectsen BR. Mellerowicz EJ. 2020. Cell Wall Acetylation in Hybrid Aspen Affects Field Performance, Foliar Phenolic Composition and Resistance to Biological Stress Factors in a Construct-dependent Fashion. Frontiers in Plant Science, 11, 651. 25 May

For those prefering to read in Swedish, the SLU issued a press release which Umeå University re-published here (please click the clink).

20170624 fieldsite with transgenic hybridaspen cropA view from the field trial site with transgenic hybrid aspen crop, in June 2017. Photo by Marta Derba-Maceluch.

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