An imported blight swept through American chestnut trees in the early 1900s, decimating the population. But with the help of genomic engineering, researchers are hoping to bring the towering tree back, NPR's Salt blog reports.
Researchers at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry have introduced a blight resistance gene found in other plants like wheat and cocoa that encodes an enzyme that breaks the fungus down. NPR notes that the researchers' first crop was hardier, though not resistant, so the investigators "replaced a genetic 'dimmer' switch inside the gene to turn it up" and the latest crop is as resistant as the Chinese chestnut, the source of the blight.
The researchers tell NPR that they plan to plant some 10,000 of these chestnuts and have them pollinate other chestnuts, though the US Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration are currently looking over their plan.