The following article includes excerpts from Grace Kelly’s interviews with Lois & Denis Melican, former members of MA/RI Chapter board of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF), and Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project.

Infighting Over Genetic Engineering Splinters Efforts to Save the American Chestnut

EcoRI News 31 July 2020

Grace Kelly

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — What would you do to save something you love? How far would you go?

The passion that pushes the legions of volunteers in their mission to save the American chestnut borders on fanatical obsession. Since 1983, members of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) have dutifully cared for, bred, and attempted to restore a tree that was once the pride of U.S. woodlands before blight decimated the species.

In the nearly four decades since the Asheville, N.C.-based organization was founded, another quest for the tree’s redemption has been running concurrently to TACF’s backcross breeding program. It has the same aim, but employs different means.

It has various names: transgenic tree, OxO tree, genetically engineered tree. But the premise is the same: Play God, and then pray to God it works.

The quest for a genetically engineered American chestnut, a chestnut to save them all, has torn the community asunder. Proponents on all sides — a team of researchers who pioneered the insertion of a wheat gene resistant to blight into the American chestnut; a husband and wife duo who resigned from their positions in their local TACF chapter in protest of the transgenic tree; and a volunteer who dutifully carries on her work crossbreeding Chinese and American trees — hope that their method is the truest, the surest way to bring back the inimitable American chestnut tree.

But the truth is, no one really knows.

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