US to Consider Genetically Altered American Chestnut Tree

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The Eastern United States was dominated by the American chestnut tree until a little over 100 years ago. The American chestnut, sometimes called the redwood of the East, was a large fast growing tree that provided lumber as well as serving as a food source for wildlife, cattle, hogs and humans. A fungus accidentally imported into the U.S. rendered the species functionally extinct.

Scientists have recently integrated a wheat gene into the American chestnut that conveys resistance to the fungus that wiped out the species. This development has raised concerns about using genetic engineering to prevent the extinction of species or possibly reintroduction of an extinct species. The USDA is considering a proposal to release the genetically engineered American chestnuts into the environment. The result of the decision concerning the genetically engineered American Chestnut will be of particular interest to those concerned about other tree species such as elm and ash that have faced or will face a similar situation to the chestnut tree.