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CRISPR Editing Generates Poplar Trees With Less Lignin, Better for Fiber Production

A North Carolina State University-led team has used CRISPR-based gene editing to produce trees with lower lignin levels, which it says would improve fiber production. As they describe in Science, the researchers used a predictive model to find gene-editing combinations of key lignin production-related genes that would reduce lignin concentration by 15 percent or more, increase the carbohydrate-to-lignin ratio by 200 percent or more, and increase the syringyl-to-guaiacyl ratio among poplar trees. From this analysis, they homed in on seven genome editing strategies, each of which targeted half a dozen genes, which they then implemented to generate 174 poplar tree lines. After six months of growth, the edited trees had reduced lignin content of up to 50 percent and a carbohydrate-to-lignin ratio that increased by up to 228 percent. "We're using CRISPR to build a more sustainable forest," co-corresponding author Rodolphe Barrangou from NC State says in a statement. "CRISPR systems provide the flexibility to edit more than just single genes or gene families, allowing for greater improvement to wood properties."