Scientists are using gene-editing to repopulate chestnuts


Researchers at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) have found a way to help revive American chestnut trees. Outside of orchards, scientist say the tree is “functionally extinct.” Now, genetically-engineered pollen carries a DNA that is capable of fighting diseases that have led to the diminishing of American chestnuts. The researchers say that they have done sufficient testing and are now ready to disperse the seeds in the world. The only problem at the moment is the lack of regulatory approvals.

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The American chestnuts once ruled much of Appalachia, with billions of mature trees towering over leafy forests all the way from Mississippi to Maine. However, they were wiped out by an exotic fungus at the beginning of the 20th century. The young ones still sprout out, yet they rarely reach maturity due to attacks by the same fungus.

Related: A tree that survived the Jurassic era is now endangered

The modified seeds now provide a solution that may lead to long-term results. This is a solution that could also save plenty of other tree species that are highly threatened. Statistics show that one in every six trees native to the lower 48 states is at risk of extinction.  

For a long time, scientists have been trying to find a way of dealing with deforestation. There have been several attempts to restore forests by raising better trees that are resistant to diseases and harsh climatic conditions. This attempt can serve as an example for many researchers across the world that are trying to achieve the same fate.

“We’re making a path for saving other tree species, and it might even go beyond trees,” said Bill Powell, director of SUNY ESF’s American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project.

Powell, however, notes that the lack of approval at the moment complicates their work. He says that gaining approval alone would be a huge success. Further, he says that the project is a long-term process that should be treated as one and not a short-term venture.

“I always say this is a century project. It’s going to take the general public wanting to plant these trees,” he said.

Via Washington Post

Lead image via Pexels



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