Minister Ceysens plants first transgene poplar in Flanders

6 May 2009
​VIB is delighted that the poplar field test is underway

This afternoon, Flanders’ Minister of Economy, Enterprise, Science,
Innovation and Foreign Trade, Patricia Ceysens, planted the first genetically modified poplar in Flanders. With this action, she has signaled the official start of the VIB field test, which should contribute to the sustainable production of bio-ethanol. The poplars have a modified wood composition that makes them more suitable for the production of bio-ethanol. VIB has long looked forward to − and striven hard for − this moment.

Modified poplars for sustainable bio-fuel
This afternoon, Patricia Ceysens planted the first of the transgene poplars that have a modified
wood composition that makes them better suited for the production of bio-ethanol. Wood has
strong potential as a bio-fuel, as it can be cultivated with very little energy-input and does not
compete with food production when it is grown on marginal lands. Today, however, it is still
relatively difficult to produce bio-ethanol efficiently from wood. Greenhouse tests have
demonstrated that up to 50% more bio-ethanol can be produced from the wood of transgene
poplars than from standard poplars.

Field trials are crucial to scientific research
Because greenhouse tests are limited in value, it is of great scientific importance to be able to
conduct field trials. It is well-known that plants behave differently in a greenhouse than they do
in the field, where they are exposed to weather influences, the changing seasons, and deep soil.
So, the field trial is the ultimate test for verifying whether wood from trees that are grown in
actual outdoor conditions can also be converted into bio-ethanol in a more efficient way.
Field trial permit: the icing on the cake
The VIB poplars drew a lot of attention after the federal government refused to grant permission for a controlled field trial. However, according to VIB, the government of Flanders, and ultimately
the Council of State as well, without valid arguments. After nine months of consultation, the
refusal was changed to an authorization, under strict conditions.
René Custers, VIB Regulatory & Communications Manager: ‘Sustainable energy production is
one of our most heartfelt aims. That’s why we’re so pleased that we can now test our trees
under practical, real-life conditions. But this is also a milestone for Flanders’ biotechnological
research in general. Being allowed to conduct field tests progresses the outstanding R&D base in Flanders.’

Background information and photos


Background information on poplars

Photos of poplars in the greenhouse and of the ceremonial planting