The growing forest health crisis is forcing scientists, conservationists, and the public to answer some of conservation biology’s thorniest questions. Will we be able to use biotechnologies on the frontier of plant science to rescue imperiled species? Should we? And when so many species are at risk, does it make sense to go to extraordinary lengths to save a tree like the Florida torreya that has a tiny historical range and no commercial value?
Safeguarding the torreya has been staggeringly complex. Unlike most plants, the tree has so-called recalcitrant seeds, which cannot be preserved in conventional seed banks because they can’t survive drying.
…[T]he public is still jittery about genetic engineering. An impartial committee has been convened by the National Academy of Sciences to study “the potential of biotechnology to address forest health.” Its report is expected at the end of this year.
In part to sidestep the controversy, [researcher Jason] Smith is hoping to use CRISPR to, in his words, “toggle up” disease resistance in the Florida torreya’s own genes. Given the tree’s imminent extinction along the Apalachicola, he says, “regular breeding is too slow.”
…[A]n easy techno-fix for Florida torreya is unlikely anytime soon.
What’s more, CRISPR has never before been used to restore a tree species’ fitness for life in the forest. “This would require more research,” [John Davis] says.
Read full, original post: For Endangered Florida Tree, How Far to Go to Save a Species?