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Transgenic renewables at the ABIC 2004

Genetically improved trees of major relevance for the environment and the economy

As a result of rising oil prices and the depletion of fossile raw material reserves, political discussions are centring increasingly around plants as sources of chemical elements, raw materials and fuels. As early as 1997 the EU Commission emphasised the importance of renewable raw materials for European energy and environmental policies. This was underlined in a memorandum dated 21 June 2004 from Federal Minister Renate Künast at the Agricultural Council. The purpose of this memorandum, said Ms Künast, was “to promote renewables in their role as fuels for the future and as an economic factor in rural areas”.

If agricultural crop plants are to be used to best effect as renewable raw materials, an important role will be played by gene technology. With the aid of gene technology it will be possible to modify the substances contained in conventional crop plants to make them meet the high raw material standards needed for the processing industry. From the economic angle also, the tailoring of raw materials to specific uses will provide the industry with alternatives to fossile resources.

An important contribution can also be made here by forestry biotechnology. Two major aims of forest genetics research are to increase biomass production and modify wood structure with a view to different types of use. Research efforts are concentrated mainly on the lignin composition and lignin content of the wood. For paper production, lignin has to be laboriously separated by boiling in toxic sulphite liquors. The removal of lignin is a considerable cost factor and the process on which it is based places a heavy strain on the environment.

One of the persons concerned with solving these problems is the Freiburg forestry scientist Prof. Dr. Heinz Rennenberg. “In particular, genetic modifications of the lignin content in wood could very soon simplify paper production and make it more environmentally friendly,” said Prof. Dr. Rennenberg. “Until very recently we could modify only the lignin structure of plants, but not their lignin content.”

 At the ABIC 2004 in Cologne, Prof. Dr. Heinz Rennenberg will be speaking during the plenary talks on Tuesday, 14 September 2004, on “Innovations in the Non-Food Sector”.

In this year of innovations, Germany will be acting for the first time as host country to one of the world’s major conferences and trade fairs on plant biotechnology, to be held under the motto “AgBiotech goes Europe”.

Investors, industrial managers, scientists and policy makers from all over the world will come together in 2004 for an intensive exchange of experience with a view to giving new momentum to the development of agricultural biotechnology.

The ABIC forum was set up in 1996 to discuss the results of research and development and facilitate joint ventures between research institutes and industrial partners. Until this year the conference was held once every two years in Canada. Host country for 2006 will be Australia. The organisation of ABIC 2004, for the first time outside Canada, was entrusted to Phytowelt GmbH in Nettetal.

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