In DepthBiotechnology

Can a transgenic chestnut restore a forest icon?

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Science  31 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6405, pp. 830-831
DOI: 10.1126/science.361.6405.830

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American chestnut trees once dominated forests in eastern North America. But in the early 1900s, a deadly fungal infection appeared on trees and spread rapidly. The so-called chestnut blight—an accidental import from Asia—essentially erased the trees from forests. Now, researchers have created a genetically modified (GM) chestnut that resists the blight. And in the coming weeks, they plan to formally ask U.S. regulators to allow their transgenic trees to breed with nonengineered relatives and grow wild in forests. If the regulators approve the request, it would be precedent setting—the first use of a GM tree to try to restore a native species in North America. But three agencies are expected to review the proposal, and it could take years to reach a decision.

  • * Gabriel Popkin is a journalist in Mount Rainier, Maryland.

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