China’s bio-engineered-based materials

The story about China’s need for resources and materials is nothing new, but the country’s approach to create biomaterials and organic fibers on the other hand is. GMO as solution to increase and optimize output of wood and bamboo plantations is now commonly used in China.

Asia Pulp & Paper workers classify 3-month-old Acacias in Dingan, northeast of Hainan province, China. Trees are cloned to yield more pulp. Picture by Mike De Sisti of the Journal Sentinel (http://www.jsonline.com/)

Asia Pulp & Paper workers classify 3-month-old Acacias in Dingan, northeast of Hainan province, China. Trees are cloned to yield more pulp. Picture by Mike De Sisti of the Journal Sentinel (http://www.jsonline.com/)

Processed bio-based materials are an important raw material for many products. Since China’s paper, textile and construction industries showed tremendous growth over the past two decades, the need for cellulose materials and wood-pulp has surged simultaneously. Being the most populated country with only 0.1 hectares of arable landfor each citizen, the question of how to meet the tremendous demand has become increasingly important.

The Chinese paper industry was the first to seriously encounter the increased gap in supply of high-quality wood pulp and demand for glossy paper. Paper production has jumped from 7.6 million tons in 1994 to 71 million tons in 2011 according to the China Paper Association. In 2009, China overtook the United States as the biggest paper producer. Whether or not to introduce genetically modified trees turned out to be a non-issue, as a new GMO eucalyptus species was introduced without any discussion.

The first messages about GM eucalyptus date from Taiwan in 2007. The species mentioned in an academic research appear to grow faster than their native Chinese species and contain 50% less lignin. Asia Pulp & Paper Co. (APP), a company often criticized for its unethical import of pulp and trees from South-East Asia, is now owning enormous plantations in China.

According to sources, the industrial and efficiently run plantations of APP measure 790,000 acres of timberland spread over eight Chinese provinces. Besides less lignin, the species could reache the harvesting height 10 times faster than average hardwood.

In China, biotechnology is seen as a route to solve social problems, increase yields and spur economic growth. Therefore this technology has been included in the seven strategic focus areas in the 12th Five Year Plan.

In February this year, Chinese Media reported that Chinese scientists deciphered the Moso Bamboo Genome. The scientists announced their ambitions to use the plant as a faster and easier alternative for timber and existing bamboo. China has 3.86 million hectares of Moso bamboo, accounting for 72 percent of the country’s bamboo plantations. Under right conditions, Moso shoots can grow 100 cm in 24 hours. According to Han Bin, a senior genetics researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the new Moso specie hence offers a great solution in alleviating food shortages for China’s giant pandas, which is caused by their excessive eating pattern of bamboos.

At the moment, There are four institutions in China that are engaged with forest tree, tree plantation optimization and forestry programs, and GMO development:

  1. Research Institute of Forestry (RIF) of the Chinese Academy of Forestry (CAF)
  2. Research Institute of Tropic Forestry (RITF) of the Chinese Academy of Forestry (CAF)
  3. Guangxi Academy of Sciences
  4. Beijing Forestry University
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