Tag Archives: chestnut tree

Scientists think they have developed a chestnut tree resistant to the blight that can be re-introduced into American forests.

Scientists think they may have developed a chestnut tree resistant to the blight so that three can be re-introduced into American forests.

In the early 2000s, they were first able to genetically engineer a chestnut embryo; the related paper was published in 2006 — the same year the first transgenic chestnut was planeted outside of the lab. Following that they developed a line of chestnuts called Darling 4, which seems to be a bit less resistant to the blight than Chinese chestnuts, but still much better than a regular American chestnut. Last summer, they planted one of those trees at the New York Botanical Garden, not far from where the blight was first discovered.

But they wanted even higher levels of resistance yet, and now they think they might have done it: a transgenic line of chestnuts, more resistant to the blight than even the Chinese trees. The team, lead by then-graduate student Amelia Bo Zhang, published their results in Trangenic Research in March. Earlier this month, they planted these trees at the Lafayette Road Experiment Station — the first American chestnuts on this Earth that are highly resistant to the blight.

Humans using science to do what humans do best.

Resurrecting the chestnut tree.

Resurrecting the chestnut tree.

As chief scientist of the American Chestnut Foundation (ACF), a group of chestnut enthusiasts and scientists, Hebard has bred thousands of hybrids at the organization’s research farm in Meadowview, Virginia. He crosses descendants of the original American chestnut with the much smaller Chinese variety (Castanea mollissima), which has some natural immunity to the Asian fungus. And after decades of work, he is within reach of his goal, a tall American tree with enough Chinese traits to keep it healthy. Other researchers are trying to attack the blight with viruses or are creating trees that are genetically modified (GM) to resist the fungus, and could be the first GM forest trees released in the wild in the United States. Progress with all three approaches is raising hopes that chestnuts will soon start to flourish again in the forests of the American east. “We’re starting to pull the American chestnut tree back from the brink of extinction,” says Hebard.

This work is an example of human behavior at its best, using our ability to adapt as well as our brains to help another species come back to life. And we aren’t doing just to help the trees. Bringing the chestnut tree back will benefit us as well as other species.