Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Good News for American Chestnut Trees


The American Chestnut Tree once provided abundant food for humans and wildlife, as well as strong and long-lasting lumber. But then a blight nearly wiped out the species by the 1920s. Occasionally botanists would find a sprout in the forest old enough to bear fruit, which would inevitably succomb and die. Yet the resiliancy of the species gave hope to scientists that somehow this majestic tree would not go extinct.

And in 2006, a miracle happened. A stand of resistant trees was discovered in Albany, Georgia. Then in 2009, a 74 foot giant was found in Talledaga National Forest in Alabama. These are like the ivory-billed woodpeckers of the tree world, existing where they were supposedly wiped out long ago.

Scientists have been trying to cross the American Chestnut with the resistant Chinese Chestnut with limited success. But yesterday it was announced that genetic engineering may be the answer:
This month, researchers from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse, N.Y., are planning to plant 10 chestnut trees with a tweaked gene that they believe will help the trees stave off the pathogen that brought their ruin.
William Powell, a plant biotechnology expert at ESF, and his colleague Charles Maynard, have incorporated a gene into the test trees that they derived from a breed of wheat. The gene has been shown to increase resistance in hybrid poplar trees to fungal pathogens.
. . . The hybrid chestnut trees are slated to be planted at a test site in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx on April 18. The location is significant. "That's a stone's throw — literally across the street — from where the blight was discovered in 1904," Maynard said in a statement.
Awesome news, and we hope these trees will be around for the next 100 years!

You can help the effort to save this amazing tree with a donation to the American Chestnut Foundation.

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