The Chestnut Restoration Project was featured in New Scientist this month. The project is going strong, and now boasts multiple generations with increasing resistance to chestnut blight. 

Dr. Powell says that they hope to gain regulatory approval to release the trees within 3 to 5 years, at which time the project’s coordinators wish to offer trees to the public in a not-for-profit program.

Who’s looking forward to planting an American chestnut in your yard?

I keep bragging to people about this because I think it’s so cool.

Thanks to chestnut blight, an invasive fungus, American chestnuts have been functionally extinct for so long that most of us can’t even conceive of a forest where 25% of the trees are chestnuts.  But they used to be everywhere in the eastern US, and they produced loads and loads of delicious nuts that fed deer, bears, squirrels and other animals—not to mention humans.

My grandfather used to tell me stories of the stands of chestnut trees that once grew in the hillside woods above our town, and how people from town would go up with buckets in the fall to gather chestnuts.  They produced so many that even the squirrels couldn’t eat them all.  Remnants of those chestnut stands are still there, or were last time I hiked up that way—shoots that the old chestnut stumps will still bravely put up.  Some of them even grow for a few years, before the blight catches them and kills them back again.

We still eat chestnuts, but they’re from an Asian chestnut species, not the American chestnut tree.

There are a couple of breeding projects that are attempting cross Chinese and American chestnuts and give American chestnuts some of the Chinese blight resistance.  But there’s another project going on, using genetic engineering to take just a few genes, add them to the American chestnut tree, and create a pure-bred American chestnut with equal or better resistance to the blight than Chinese chestnuts.

They’ve got the trees.  And now they’re starting the process for regulatory approval, so that they can begin releasing trees to the public.

In my grandfather’s memory, I want to get hold of one of those trees one day, and plant it in the yard.

American chestnut set for genetically modified revival – life – 30 May 2014 – New Scientist

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