Quirks & Quarks

Genetically Modified Chestnuts

A new GMO strain of the American Chestnut, which was wiped out by a fungal blight in the 20th century, might enable its return to the forest.

A century ago, the American Chestnut was a tremendously important species in the forests of Eastern North America, representing more than a quarter of forest trees in a swath from Georgia to Ontario. But a fungus introduced on imported Asian chestnut trees turned out to be catastrophic for the American Chestnut, and killed billions of trees, essentially wiping out the species by the 1950's. Breeding a blight-resistant tree has proved laborious and difficult, so now a team led by Dr. William Powell, a professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York, has developed a genetically modified American Chestnut that uses a gene from wheat to resist the fungus. They are currently going through the regulatory approval process, but believe this could be the first attempt to use a GM organism in an environmental restoration project.

Related Links

Paper in Plant Science​
- SUNY ESF release
- Live Science story
- Ars Technica story