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For blight-ridden American chestnut tree, rebirth may be in offing

Any revival of the American chestnut may be decades — or centuries — away.

“This is definitely at least a couple centuries of a mission going forward. And from there, I think we just keep chipping away at it,” Vasiliy Lakoba said [TACF Director of Research].

To do this, two main research avenues are under investigation: The first, which has been in place for years, consists of crossing an American chestnut tree with other species that already show some resistance to the fungus, such as the Chinese chestnut tree.

A first specimen is produced from this hybridization, before it is crossbred again with an American chestnut tree, then once again — all in order to preserve as much of the original genetic characteristics as possible. The current hybrid has 15/16ths of the genetic makeup of an American chestnut tree — while ideally acquiring the resistance of the Chinese chestnut tree.

One of the main drawbacks with these hybrids, explained Lakoba, “is that blight resistance and susceptibility have turned out to be a genetically much more complex phenomenon than previously thought.”

“We see it really as a matter of time.”

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