to Press Releases
oughton, Mich.-A revolutionary discovery at Michigan Tech University could lead to significant changes in the wood products industry.
Last August, genetic engineers at MTU's School of Forestry and Wood Products' plant biotechnology center found a means by which Aspen trees can produce red wood. Their research may also lead to other commercial tree species being able to produce red wood.
The group effort was directed by Dr. Vincent Chiang, renowned for his work in genetically altering lignin in wood pulping species to make the process less costly and more environmentally safe for the industry.
The actual discovery, however, has been credited to MTU postdoctoral researcher Chung-Jui Tsai. "She was working on a project to develop genetic engineering procedures for Aspen and in the process introduced two different genes to Aspens that were designed to alter their lignin to make easier for pulping," Chiang said. "When she peeled away the bark of our test saplings, she found that one of the genes had manifested itself by causing the saplings to produce red wood instead of the usual white."
Tsai said research of this nature is usually painstaking and lacks in results for years, but this case turned out to be different.
"We just pulled back the bark," Tsai said. "Even a kid can tell."
Chiang said the new Aspens are a salmon color, rosier than cedar, less red than redwood. "Very distinguished," he said in assessing the new color.
Additionally, variations occurred from tree to tree in hue, intensity and design.
"Some of the saplings were mottled, spotted like a Dalmatian, red and white," Chiang said. MTU researchers have already produced a second group of colored saplings started from cuttings taken from the first samples.
Chiang said response to his discovery has been "vigorous," with four wood products corporations already inquiring about growing the red Aspens.
From here, Chiang, Tsai and colleague Dr. Gopi Podila want to gain a fundamental understanding of how the color change takes place in Aspens.
Furthermore, they want to try out their red-wood gene on other species since it affects a genetic pathway that is common to many Hardwoods.
In order for the red Aspens to be studies in a natural environment, the group has applied for a license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
to Press Releases
Designed by University Relations/Publications