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Taking Down the Christmas Tree? Good News for the Future

Fed up with trying to get the lights on?and off?the Christmas tree every year? Scientists say that genetic modification will make it possible to grow Christmas trees that light themselves up. They also believe that trees could be grown that would provide power for homes and run appliances.

Professor Bernard Witholt, chairman of the Institute of Biotechnology at Zurich?s Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, says trees could be bred to mimic electric eels. Inspired by this, a group of postgraduate students at the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K. entered a government-sponsored competition with a proposal to create a Christmas tree that lights up on its own.

Professor Witholt says 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 inside its cells in order to produce a bigger discharge all at once. The result 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.?

We may have been wary about genetically-modified foods, but cutting our electric bills by planting trees sounds like a good idea. And doing away with those pesky Christmas lights would be a marvelous scientific breakthrough.

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