Meilan said planting transgenic trees in the field remains controversial, primarily due to concerns that inserted genes, or transgenes, might escape and incorporate into natural tree populations.
"It is legitimate to be concerned about transgenic plants, but we are taking comprehensive steps to ensure that our transgenes don't escape into the environment," Meilan said.
Meilan has applied for a permit to grow transgenic poplars in a field, or non-laboratory, setting from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the government organization responsible for regulating such research activities, he said.
In order to comply with permit guidelines and to protect the environment, Meilan's team will take measures to prevent any plant material from leaving the site and will remove the trees after three years, short of the five it takes for poplars to reach sexual maturity, he said.
"Three years should be enough time for them to grow up, send down roots to suck the pollutants up and break them down," Meilan said. "Then we'll cut them down before they have the chance to pass on their genes to the environment."
Besides their utility in phytoremediation, or pollution removal, poplars have promise as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol. To investigate their potential in this area, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a $1.3 million grant to Meilan and two colleagues, professors Michael Ladisch, agricultural and biological engineering, and lead researcher Clint Chapple, biochemistry.
They are currently investigating ways to alter the composition of poplar lignin, which provides rigidity to the plant cell wall by binding to strands of cellulose, a complex sugar that can be converted into ethanol.
Chrysler will fund the Kokomo project and said that the TCE is contained within an isolated water table at Peter's Pond and presents no public hazard
|Contact: Douglas M. Main|