High-tech chestnuts: US to consider genetically altered tree

Courtesy: SUNY

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Can biotechnology bring back the American chestnut tree?

Researchers at New York state's College of Environmental Science and Forestry will soon seek federal clearance to distribute thousands of modified trees as part of a restoration effort. The precedent-setting case adds urgency to the question of whether genetic engineering should be used to help save or restore trees.

Opponents warn of starting "a massive and irreversible experiment" in a highly complex ecosystem. Proponents see a technology already ubiquitous in the supermarket that could help save forests besieged by invasive pests.

Researchers will ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assess an American chestnut tree with a gene from wheat that helps it tolerate blight.

The blight decimated a towering tree species once dominant in forests from Maine to Georgia.

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