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Activists, scientists spar over effort to restore American chestnut tree with genetic engineering

The American Chestnut Tree
The American chestnut, once known as the “redwood of the east,” could grow to 80 feet tall. Now it is virtually extinct. Image: American Chestnut Foundation
This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

The American chestnut tree once sustained a way of life. Pioneers used the tall, straight, and fast-growing tree for fences, railroad ties, furniture, and anything else they wanted to last.

But beginning around 1904, a blight appeared on chestnut trees in the Bronx Zoo and spread rapidly….Today a high-tech effort to restore the chestnut awaits federal regulatory approval. Scientists….have created a genetically modified lineage of blight-tolerant chestnut trees.

….To some environmentalists, including two prominent American chestnut restoration activists in Massachusetts, this is a bridge too far. In a world where ecosystems are under assault, “we are going to need every tool … to make sure that we have resilient natural and human systems into the future,” says Doria Gordon, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “But,” she says, “we must be precautionary in how we deploy novel gene types into the environment.”

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But to biologist William Powell, one of a duo who led the project, the addition of the wheat gene represents the smallest possible human intervention that could restore the species….“New York is where the blight started,” he says. “And here is where I’m hoping it’ll stop.”

Read full, original article: GMO could bring back the American chestnut. But should it?

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