Monday, July 28, 2014

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Growing trees in test tubes

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Growing trees in test tubes
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You know, it's hard to believe this American elm started out its life in a test tube. Now I want to introduce you to Dr. Chuck Maynard and Dr. Bill Powell who are going to explain how that test tube technology may be key to once again helping American elm and American chestnut again grace New York State and much of North America.

"The elm as a street tree was the most popular street tree in the United States so it was planted everywhere. Nearly every city has an Elm Street, an Elm Drive, an Elm Parkway, an Elm Place, but the elms are gone," said Dr. Charles Maynard.

Victims of Dutch Elm disease, while the chestnut, a very useful building material because it's so rot resistant, has been done in by a fungus.

The lab work starts by establishing a small piece of tree tissue in a Petri dish, getting it to multiply, then introducing the desired genes and regenerating a whole plant.

"The simplest tissue to use is a simple leaf and with the American elm the leaf transformation process worked marvelously well," Maynard said.

On the other hand, it took 20 years of research to create a tissue for the chestnut tree by taking apart a chestnut burr. Then the embryos are encouraged to form shoots, root in soil, and then the shoots are slowly introduced to the outside world.

Through genetic engineering, the researchers have added a defense mechanism that the tree doesn't have.

"The chestnut has a gene that originates in wheat. It's called an oxalate oxidase gene and we're very interested in that gene because it detoxifies an acid that's produced by the fungus that attacks the tree," said Dr. Powell.

For the elm, they use what are called peptide antibiotics to defend against pathogens like bacteria or fungus.

Now it's only a matter of time before we find out if the trees coming out of the lab are in fact disease resistant.

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