GE chestnut trees underperform against phytophthora, a root rot

The Capital Press article mentioned below reviews two approaches to reviving the American Chestnut tree, hybridization and genetic engineering. It notes that genetic engineering is not a silver bullet and GE chestnut trees underperform against phytophthora when compared to naturally backcrossed trees. It also warns of possible environmental consequences.

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Excerpts from the article  “Could chestnut trees make a comeback?” by Sierra Dawn McClain, dated February 7, 2023. Source: Capital Press.

Sara Fitzsimmons, [chief conservation officer for the American Chestnut Foundation] believes in a multi-pronged restoration approach involving traditional breeding and genetic engineering.

For example, Darling 58 [a line of GM chestnut trees] is more tolerant to blight, but naturally backcrossed trees perform better against phytophthora, a root rot.

Skeptics, however, warn of possible environmental consequences.

“Precaution is what’s mandated here,” said Anne Petermann, executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project, an environmental group.

Historically, American chestnut trees often lived to be more than 200 years. If people plant GM chestnut trees widely and researchers later realize Darling 58 is problematic, it will be too late to recall the trees, said Petermann.

Petermann urges more time and testing before officials contemplate release.

The entire article can be read on the Capital Press website.

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