Wood growth doubled with gene transfer

Contact information

  • Juha Immanen, institute of biotechnology, University of Helsinki

    E-mail juha.immanen(at)helsinki.fi

    Tel. + 358 29 415 9585, +358 50 448 5851

    Yrjö Helariutta, Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge

    E-mail yrjo.helariutta(at)slcu.cam.ac.uk

    Tel. +44 122 376 1144

Researchers have for several years searched for ways to improve the quality of wood material and accelerate the growth of trees. Researchers in North America developed a transgenic tree already a few years ago, the lignin of which breaks down easily. An Israeli company has developed eucalyptus trees, which grow up even five metres per year and produce one fifth more wood material than ordinary ones.

In autumn 2016, a research team from Helsinki and Cambridge universities, together with researchers from the Natural Resources Institute Finland, succeeded in creating an aspen that produces as much as 80 percent more biomass per growing season, compared to ordinary aspens, under ideal research conditions. The almost doubled growth rate was achieved by modifying certain genes in the cambium of the tree.

Horizontal growth of a tree takes place in the cambium, which is just below the bark of thr tree. The cambium of the Czech hybrid aspen began to produce more than normal amounts of a hormone called cytokinin with the help of transgenes. Cytokinin increases cell division, or cytokinesis, and thus the growth of the trunk as well.

The research will be continued outside with transgenic hybrid aspen suitable for Finnish weather conditions. Additional results from field tests can be expected after a few numbers of growing seasons.