December 25, 1998

Nippon Paper Industries Isolates New Gene for Pulp Tree Breeding

Nippon Paper Industries Co., Ltd.

Nippon Paper Industries (NPI) has isolated a new gene which promises to ease pulp production by reducing the amount of lignin in trees.
Wood resources are going to become increasingly scarce throughout the world. In order to secure a stable supply of wood resources for pulp, pulp and paper industries are establishing plantation operations all over the world. For this reason, it is important to develop tree strains that grow fast and produce pulp easily.
Trees used for pulp production generally consist of about 50% cellulose and 20-30% lignin. NPI has been seeking to reduce the content of lignin to facilitate extraction of the cellulose from which paper is made. Biotechnological breeding has been widely used in scientific research throughout the world since about 1990, and major chemical firms in the West now hold fundamental patents on genes related to lignin biosynthesis processes.
NPI has successfully isolated a gene called Ntlim1, a transcription factor that controls the function of other genes for lignin biosynthesis. Ntlim1 acts as a switch to inhibit the function of the genes that play roles in lignin biosynthesis . By using Ntlim1, NPI is able to reduce lignin without directly controlling genes that have already been patented. Tobacco has been used as the model plant used in initial experiments, and the results of these experiments indicate that lignin can be reduced by 30%.
In combination with a technology developed in 1995 by NPI for transforming genes into plants, this latest breakthrough will enable the company to use its own technology to grow the raw materials to reduce lignin without infringing upon the patents of other companies. NPI has completed its application for a Japanese patent, and is planning to apply for patents overseas as well.