with plans for millions more in what the group calls the country’s largest ecological restoration effort. Thousands of trees were inoculated with the fungus in June 2011, with 20% showing strong resistance and 40% with a more moderate amount, foundation president Bryan Burhans said. Scientists will select for the strongest resistances when breeding future generations, he said.
Meanwhile, scientists at Syracuse’s forestry college began experimenting in 1990 with a technique called transgenics, which was traditionally used to create genetically modified crops. They inserted a fungus-resistant wheat gene into an American chestnut embryo and grew a tree from a single cell in a Petri dish.
By 2006, Syracuse scientists had planted the first genetically modified trees, and they hope to gather their first nut crop this fall. The results are promising so far, as the trees haven’t succumbed to blight halfway into the study. “It’s just a matter of time giving us the combination of genes we want,” said William Powell, the project’s co-director.
Today, nearly all chestnuts sold as food are grown from the Chinese variety. But the American version is smaller and considered sweeter, although there aren’t enough trees yet to sustain a food industry.
They applied a new method, called backcross breeding, which was first used for corn that imparts preferable traits over several generations.
Returning the chestnut to American forests in large numbers could depend on help from the mining and timber industry. Federal law requires mining companies to restore land they strip