GMO's in the Wild?
The American chestnut tree (Castanea dentata) was once prominent throughout eastern North American forests. However, the accidental import of an Asiatic chestnut tree in the early 1900s to NYC’s Bronx Zoo would go on to spread a fungal infection that would soon wipe out most of the American chestnut population. Entering the tree through cracks, the surrounding bark becomes infected, eventually killing everything above it. Although new sprouts can still arise from the surviving roots, they too will eventually succumb to the infection and die. It is estimated that three and a half billion American chestnuts were lost in less than four decades. Now in 2018, over a century after this devastating blight began, an attempt to recover the once dominant tree is underway with the introduction of Darling 58, a genetically-modified American chestnut that is resistant to the blight fungus.
An article in Science Magazine writes of the efforts in motion to introduce the genetically-modified (GM) American chestnut into the wild. Geneticists at SUNY ESF, the creators of Darling 58, are looking to present the GM chestnut to U.S. regulators within the coming weeks in search of approval to plant the tree in forests. This request is surely significant – unlike GM crops, trees are especially controversial, and only typically gain approval for use in areas such as fruit orchids and afforestation projects. The introduction of Darling 58 would be the first attempt in North America at restoring a native species using a GM tree. Objections to this project is not without reason; several determinations must be made prior to its introduction into the wild. Firstly, they must ensure that the tree is of no threat to other existing native species. If Darling 58 were discovered to be of an invasive nature, this would clearly do more harm than good. Another obstacle the GM tree faces is the possibility of the blight fungus evolving new mechanisms around its defense, or even a new pathogen entering the US posing a threat to the trees and killing them once again.
Although unlikely outcomes, the genetically-modified American chestnut will struggle with the possible threats of the tree posed by these various U.S. regulations. The primary argument seems to be that the time and effort that will be placed forward to enact this initiative will be completely lost if any of the above events occur. Do the risks outweigh the potential benefits? Possibly, though it will likely take several years before a consensus is reached.
Posted by Alexandra Rios (3)
This is very interesting research on such a controversial issue. It seems we might need to do more research on the potential impact of Darling 58 on an ecosystem, as well as the species that cohabitate. Assuming that there have been changes to the ecosystem since the blight over 100 years ago, the current species in this ecosystem have since adapted to living in an american-chestnut free environment. Although Darling 58 was found to not be an invasive species I wonder, if introduced back into this habitat, what kinds of resources it might take away from these other native species, and furthermore the ecological effect of this new distribution of resources.ReplyDelete
Posted by: Hayley Fecko
I agree! In losing the American chestnut from forests, many other trees, such as birch trees, became more established and essentially replaced the American chestnut. These trees who benefited from the loss of the American chestnut may not do so well if it were to come back. I am interested in seeing what conclusion they reach!Delete
Posted by Alexandra Rios
This is a really interesting topic. I was unaware that GM trees were so controversial in the community. I wonder why we seem to be so protective over these, but very willing to modify other things. Do you think there are ways to test these concerns before planting these trees in the wild? I'm not sure how closely the conditions could be replicated, but I assume it would be possible, though likely costly as well.ReplyDelete
I was unaware of its controversy as well! I was also somewhat surprised to read that this would be their first attempt at introducing a GM into the wild, especially if they could potentially rescue a threatened species like this. I am unsure how they would be able to test their concerns or if it is even possible to do so, I'd be very interested to see how they figure this out in the coming years!Delete
Posted by Alexandra Rios
I really enjoyed this article! It sheds light on a beneficial aspect of GMO's, during a time in which there is an ever-growing anti-GMO movement. Although I do agree that the politics surrounding some GMO companies is unethical, GMO's in its essence is a revolutionary tool that has the potential to solve global crises. Despite this, I do agree that we must be extremely cautious with the use of GMO's since they can have so many unforeseen consequences. If Darling 58 is found to be suitable for reintroduction, I think it should be.ReplyDelete
Posted by Jamie Courtney
This is a very interesting post. Genetic modification is always a controversial topic, because many people concern that genetic modified species may cause new issues. Using genetic modified tree species to recover endangered tree population may be a good idea, but people need to do many research work to ensure that the modified species will not cause new problems such as invasion or pathogens.ReplyDelete
Posted by Muchen Liu
Great read! I was wondering if you think there is any cause for concern that introducing the GMO trees may become the new norm, and that we may soon be surrounded by these types of trees?ReplyDelete
Posted by Josha Cruz
I'm not too sure honestly - while I understand their concerns and the ethical problems with introducing GMO's into the wild, I also think it would be an incredible tool to be able to modify threatened species, such as the American chestnut, and essentially restore biodiversity back into the world. If the American chestnut is approved, many other endangered species could be approved for modification as well and we may very well be surrounded by GMO trees/plants someday.Delete
Posted by Alexandra Rios
It's nice to see some good news when it comes to forests, and bringing back species that have been pushed to the brink by destruction of habitats or introduction of invasive species. How can scientists be sure that this infection is the only threat to the American birch? Can some kind of antidote or "vaccine-like" substance be given to trees that are already infected, to make an attempt to try and save them and combat the disease? Or if trees are infected, is it always, 100% lethal?ReplyDelete
Posted by Chandler Kupris