How genetic engineering can save the iconic American Chestnut tree

An estimated 3 billion to 6 billion American chestnut trees once covered forests spreading from southern Mississippi to central Maine.

So when’s the last time you saw an American chestnut tree? Well, chances are you haven’t.

When Chinese chestnuts were imported in the early 1900s, a pathogenic fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica, was unknowingly imported with them. By 1940, most mature American chestnuts were reduced to rotting skeletons or erased from the landscape completely. In a little over a century, populations plummeted from as many as 6 billion to a handful of wild stands. Life may be getting on fine without them, but they played an integral role in the American economy, environment, and cultural history.

It’s a pretty sad story, right? Yes, it is, but who said it was over?

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A team of researchers at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, led by Dr. William Powell and Dr. Charles Maynard (the men who taught me college genetics), is leading the charge against chestnut blight in an effort to revive the iconic American chestnut tree. They’re using genetic engineering to introduce resistance genes into American chestnut seeds, and then crossing them with existing wild trees to inject some genetic diversity. If successful, they’ll be the first GM forest trees released into the American wild. Moreover, the methods are similar to those used by Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow Chemical, and DuPont when producing enhanced agricultural crops. Can their efforts build a bridge to the hearts and minds of consumers opposed to genetic engineering?

Read the full original article: How Genetic Engineering Can Save the Iconic American Chestnut Tree

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