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Researchers reverse engineer way pine trees produce green chemicals worth billions

Date: 12.12.2018 

Washington State University researchers have reverse engineered the way a pine tree produces a resin, which could serve as an environmentally friendly alternative to a range of fossil-fuel based products worth billions of dollars.

Kredit: Woodlot / Wikimedia Commons.Mark Lange and colleagues in the Institute for Biological Chemistry literally dissected the machinery by which loblolly pine produces oleoresin.

Before the arrival of petroleum-derived alternatives in the 1960s, the sticky, fragrant oil-resin mixture was central to the naval stores industry and products ranging from paint and varnish to shoe polish and linoleum.

Meanwhile, the international demand for oleoresins has risen. Naturally occurring oleoresins – from sources like loblolly pine – are often preferred. A 2016 analysis by Grand View Research predicted that global sales of oleoresin will approach $1.7 billion by 2022.

The Lange lab's discovery of how it is made "could inspire new engineering approaches for the production of renewable, green chemicals," says Dutch biologist Harro Bouwmeester in a commentary accompanying Lange's research in the Journal of Experimental Botany.

With a better knowledge of the reactions, and their genetic underpinnings, researchers can screen trees for genes that make them better producers of the resin. Or they could replicate the resin-producing metabolic pathway in other organisms.

"That could be an E. coli or a yeast, something of that kind, and then you can make specific chemicals from there," said Lange.

"Ultimately," said Bouwmeester in his commentary, "this could result in robust pine tree genotypes that can compete with classical oil-based chemistry for the production of green chemicals through forest plantations."

 


 

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