As I mentioned in March, an effort to develop a genetically modified American chestnut tree to resist the blight that largely destroyed the species a century ago has split long-running effort to develop a resistant strain through cross-breeding.

Researchers at the New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry have developed a genetically modified chestnut that they say can shrug off the blight, and want permission to test them in the wild. That has produced a lot of outcry, not just from traditional chestnut tree fans but from anti-GMO folks who think this is a sneaky way to get public acceptance of genetically modified agriculture. But it has also produced its share of supporters who say that in the face of the world’s multiple ecological problems we should use the tools we have, and who point out that cross-breeding often introduces more genes than genetic modification and that a slow-growing species with little commercial value is different than a fast-growing species that Monsanto would try to dominate.

There was some excellent back-and-forth in the comments section the last time I wrote about this (here), or you can listen to an episode of NPR’s “On Point” program that discussed the issue.

New Hampshire has some of the cross-bred chestnut trees, as I’ve noted. We also have lots of cross-bred efforts to develop an American elm tree that will resist the blight which destroyed that species. So far there’s no GMO version of the elm, but I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody is working on it.


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