GM Xmas tree will light up on its own

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The Independent Online

Fed up of fiddling with the fairy lights? Help might be at hand. Scientists are predicting that genetic modification will enable them to grow Christmas trees that light themselves up.

Fed up of fiddling with the fairy lights? Help might be at hand. Scientists are predicting that genetic modification will enable them to grow Christmas trees that light themselves up.

The scientists say that the new GM trees would put an end to the frustrating ritual of fishing the lights out of the loft and trying to make them work. They also believe that trees could be grown to power homes and appliances.

Professor Bernard Witholt, the chairman of the Institute of Biotechnology at Zurich's Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, said trees could be bred to mimic electric eels. And a group of postgraduate students at the University of Hertfordshire reached the finals of a government-sponsored competition with a proposal to create a Christmas tree that lights up on its own.

Professor Witholt, an expert on cells, said that biotechnology could engineer plants that would produce electricity by photosynthesis. This could be accumulated by the same kind of process used by the electric eel, which gathers together lots of tiny charges in its cells to produce a bigger discharge. The result, he said, would be energy that could be "brought everywhere on Earth via small dispersed systems that anyone can build by planting a few seeds".

The Hertfordshire students worked out how to genetically modify a Douglas spruce to shine red, green and blue. But they admitted that critics have accused them of "trying to take God into our own hands".

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