Genetically-engineered chestnut tree, MCB263 scicomm assignment 2

My tweet post for this week’s MCB263 sci comm assignment is on the genetically-engineered chestnut tree. This is the first transgenic plant to ever be considered for use in species and ecological restoration. It is currently under review by the US EPA and USDA.

This very well-written article by Dr. William Powell from SUNY Syracuse explains that the population of America chestnut trees, Castanea dentata in the eastern U.S. was invaded starting in the early 1900s by a fungal pathogen, Cryphonectria parasitica causing a lethal disease called chestnut blight. The population was wiped out, once a dominant canopy ranging from Maine to FL. American chestnuts are large trees, of ecological importance providing habitat for thousands of other species and also providing a source of carbon sequestrationEfforts to restore this environmentally- and economically-important species have recently focused on using biotechnology methods.

I think it is really great to see the application of transgenic technologies used for environmental restoration purposes.

The transgenic plant was created by adding a single gene from the wheat plant. Thirty candidate genes were tested for effectiveness in removing the fungus. The best turned out to one that produces an enzyme called oxalate oxidase (OxO), which breaks down oxalate that the fungus uses to form deadly cankers on the stems. The American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project has a list of reasons why OxO was chosen as the best gene.

The experiment done to test the effectiveness of the OxO gene is shown here in this video, comparing the “wild-type” normal American chestnut plant on the left to the new transgenic chestnut plants:

 

The result is a blight-resistant American chestnut tree that can pass this trait down to the next generation. The idea is to cross with cultured chestnut trees allowing the trait to incorporate and diversify, then plant into the wild and hopefully restore the population.

Tweets from my MCB263 group:

Stephanie Fung: development of super interesting method for visually analyzing DNA/RNA sequences in situ!

Ryan Kawakita: cells from cow used to make cartilage tissue in cell culture

Laura Perilla-Henao: investigation of Italian publications on GMO

Prema Karunanithi: temporary sensors for monitoring neuronal activity

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About Lisa Cohen

PhD student at UC Davis.
This entry was posted in biotech, Grad School, science. Bookmark the permalink.

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