Planting hopes to save chestnut trees

April 16, 2012 at 3:49 PM
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NEW YORK, Calif., April 16 (UPI) -- The once-ubiquitous American chestnut tree, virtually wiped out by a fungus, will return to New York in an effort to re-establish the species, scientists said.

Researchers from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse said they would plant 10 genetically modified American chestnut trees at a test site in The New York Botanical Garden in hopes of revealing a variety of American chestnut that can survive a blight attack caused by the pathogenic fungus that first attacked chestnut trees 100 years ago.

The American chestnut, which can grow more than 100 feet tall and measure 10 feet in diameter, was once a dominant species in the eastern United States, making up 25 percent of the trees in the forests.

"This was a key species in the eastern forest. It was super at producing nuts for wildlife; very important for agriculture for human consumption of the nuts; very important for the lumber industry, making a rot-resistant, fast-growing wood product; and it was an important part of our history," William Powell, a plant biotechnology expert, said in a SUNY release.

"We really want to bring it back. The only way it can come back is to make a resistant tree because no one has been able to control the blight any other way."

The trees being planted in New York with the support of The American Chestnut Foundation are among more than 100 varieties of transgenic American chestnuts being tested in field trials or waiting to be tested for blight resistance, researchers said.

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