Wheat Genes Could Bring Back Chestnut




This is Scientific American 60-Second Science.I'm David Biello.Got a minute?
Chestnut trees once carpeted the eastern U.S.
Three billion of them fed and sheltered many forest residents, until the early decades of the 20th century when a fungal disease called chestnut blight killed almost every last one of the trees.
But now the American chestnut is making a comeback in its former range—thanks to genetic modification.
The blight came to the U.S.on imported Asian chestnuts, which are resistant to the disease.
With that resistance in mind, in the 1980's the American Chestnut Foundation began working to crossbreed the Asian chestnut with surviving individuals of its American cousin.
Such crossbreeding is time-consuming, however, and results in something less than a full American chestnut.
In a bid to speed up restoration work and minimize the need for genetic changes,
scientists at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry have introduced genes into the American chestnut from wheat that help disarm the fungus.
And, in future, genes from its Chinese cousin, other trees and even grapes could help make the American chestnut even more resistant to the deadly blight.
A few of the hybrid chestnuts have been planted in the wild from New Jersey to Virginia.
And test plots of the genetically foritified trees have shown promising results.
Some environmentalists worry about genetically modified organisms.
But a bit of genetic tweaking, whether by crossbreeding or gene insertion, looks like the only way to restore the chestnut to its former glory.
Thanks for the minute, for Scientific American 60-Second Science. I'm David Biello.