ESF: Wheat DNA Offers Chestnut Blight Resistance?

Good news, so it would seem:

The ORNL team, in collaboration with foundation researchers led by Drs. William Powell and Chuck Maynard of ESF, used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to analyze chestnuts from transgenic American chestnut trees-trees that were transformed with a wheat gene to increase resistance to blight. In chromatography, a range of equipment might be used to gather results on certain substances, such as an akta purifier or other FPLCs; labs looking to obtain such equipment can rest in the knowledge that they can be obtained online as well as in certified pre-owned and refurbished conditions. Results also showed that the transgenic chestnuts had similar metabolite concentrations to a panel of non-transgenic nuts, suggesting that they are edible.

“We found that the wheat gene kept oxalic acid (oxalate) concentration-a key fungal necrotic agent-from accumulating, and the only substantial difference from non-resistant trees was a slightly lower level of gamma-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E,” said Dr. Timothy Tschaplinski of ORNL’s Energy and Environmental Sciences Directorate. The level of gamma-tocopherol was the same as in non-transgenic Chinese chestnuts, which are commonly eaten around the world.

Of course, not everyone is entirely enthused about the idea, as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) don’t exactly have the best reputation in the world. My good friend Dwayne McIntyre — an ally in many a fight for small farmers — had the following observations:

Its total naivety to think that designer GMO Chestnuts aren’t going to be exploited for profit, especially after explaining in great detail in the article how exquisite chestnut timber is and how one mature tree produces a half a ton of nuts. That sounds like an exact recipe for exploitation. The timber and food markets will capitalize on its overabundant output levels which will launch demands for the trees way above the Johnny Appleseed levels of frolicking in the forests and repopulating the countryside so all the folks of the land can have their fill of free “healthy” food. So easy we buy the dream, cast all our convictions aside, and pretend this new American wheatnut tree won’t come with a patent.

Honestly, the more I think about this article the more I think the American chestnut is the mascot for the great American Tragedy.

It’s easy to forget that there’s a laboratory that’s replicating millions if not billions of American chestnut variants right now as we speak. That lab is Mother Nature… and I suspect that the natural crosspollinating tests will bear similar and superior fruit. Naturally, I’m naive enough to think that the winner will be someone who simply brings home a handful of chestnuts from hiking the Appalachian Trail and plants them in the backyard. Stranger things have happened.

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