The Return of the Chestnut

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The American chestnut, which was virtually eliminated from Appalachian forests in the early 20th century by the chestnut blight pathogen, is being restored through several innovative programs around the country. Since 1983, The American Chestnut Foundation has been working on a hybridization program to transfer the Chinese chestnuts’ resistance to the blight to the American chestnut. 200,000 acres of sandy Ohio land formerly used in strip-mining operations are now being used to regenerate hybrid chestnuts.

Scientists are also investigating the genes that offer resistance to the chestnut blight. The State University of New York is developing genetically engineered blight-resistant American chestnuts using a gene that comes from wheat. Their research may lead to blight-resistant chestnut trees being planted in as little as five years.

Not all efforts to save the chestnut rely on importing new genes into the species. The American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation (ACCF) is working with Virginia Tech and Concord College researchers to find native chestnut trees showing some blight resistance and breeding those individuals. The results are still being evaluated, but the effort is important to those who wish to maintain a genetically pure strain of the species.

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