In traditional plant breeding …. farmers …. cross varieties with desired traits …. and select promising mixtures for sought-after qualities ….
[T]he process is slow and somewhat disorderly. [Herbert Darling, an engineer in Western New York,] doubted such methods would ever produce [an American chestnut] tree as good as [the wild one on his property]. “I thought we could do something better,” he told me.
Genetic engineering means …. [s]pecific genes can be selected for particular purposes, even if they come from unrelated species, and inserted into another organism’s genome. (An organism with a gene from a different species is “transgenic.” More recently, scientists have developed techniques for editing a target organism’s genome directly.)
The technology …. seemed perfectly suited, [State University of New York researcher William] Powell thought, for the American chestnut, which he calls “almost the perfect tree” …. needing only one, very specific correction: blight resistance.
In 2013, [the researchers] announced their success …. 109 years after the American chestnut blight was discovered, they had created a version of the tree that appeared to defend itself, even when hit with a huge dose of blight fungus.
Such results may reassure regulators. They will almost certainly not placate activists who oppose genetically modified organisms.