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Guest Appearance: Why ‘GE’ chestnut trees should remain cloistered

Finger Lakes Times December 15, 2019

Brian Caldwell of Hemlock Grove Farm

WEST DANBY, Tompkins County — Scientists at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse are leading an effort to save the American chestnut from devastating blight using genetic engineering — also known as GE. They have inserted wheat genes that produce the enzyme oxalate oxidase, into chestnut tree cells. Trees grown from those cells are able to break down oxalic acid, which the chestnut blight fungus ordinarily uses to invade chestnut tissues and kill the trees. This alteration enables the GE trees to tolerate chestnut blight infections, whereas the trunks of wild American chestnut trees are nearly always killed.

This seems like a good thing. Why would anyone oppose it?

My objections start with the genetic engineering process itself. In contrast to the image that GE proponents promote, genetic engineering is not a precise technology. Packets of genetic material are inserted randomly into the host genome, disrupting any DNA in the vicinity. Because of this, the vast majority of GE “events” (instances where genetic material is successfully incorporated) harm the organism and often are fatal.

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