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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