Chestnut trees once dominated swaths of the Eastern seaboard. That was more than a century ago, before an Asian fungus decimated [their] population.... The fungus is now endemic throughout the Eastern U.S.
[State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry] researcher Allison Oakes says when researchers found an enzyme that reduces the virulence of the fungus on chestnut trees ... it opened the door to creating a [genetically modified chesnut] tree that won't die from it.
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"This is going to be the first genetically modified organism that's made for restoration of a natural ecosystem, as opposed to crop plants, or food production," she said.
So Oakes [is now] pairing the fungal-resistant gene, with different chestnut seedlings. She says the long term goal is reestablishing them where they once grew with abandon. ... Researchers start applying for approval from three federal agencies next year, and if they get the okay, trees could be growing in the wild in three to five years.
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She says research like this is happening with other non-crop plants and organisms, notably ash trees and coral. And she believes it's necessary in a warming world, where it might take 100,000 years for a species like the American chestnut to reestablish itself on its own.
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