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To Avoid Charlie Brown's Tree

Researchers at Washington State University and elsewhere are sampling Christmas trees to find out which genes make them hardy, Wired reports.

Washington State's Gary Chastagner has been scouring Christmas tree stands for decades, taking bits of the branches away for analysis, it says. Wired adds that Chastagner assesses the branches based on how many of its needles drop after drying out and then grafts them on to root stocks. He and his colleagues are now examining those trees' transcriptomes to tease out what makes a good tree.

The hope, Wired says, is to find biomarkers for needle retention as well as for resistance to Phytophtora mold. It takes years to grow a tree, and it could be some 10 years later when a grower can tell if it's a durable tree and if it has survived root rot. "With biomarkers, growers could test much earlier, only planting trees that will keep their needles post-harvest," Wired adds. "And it could help breeders cross in resistance traits from more exotic species to more traditional American ones."