Ohio plants hybrids in effort to bring back chestnut trees

COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohio is planting hybrid American chestnut trees at state forests and parks in an attempt to bring back the tree that was decimated by a fungal blight.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources last month planted 1,000 American chestnut hybrids in three state forests and parks and plans to plant an additional 2,000 in March, The Columbus Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1JtQmzv ) reported.

The department is working with the American Chestnut Foundation to bring back the tree found from Maine to Georgia in the early 1900s. Biologists estimate about 4 billion chestnuts grew along the Appalachian Mountains before the blight. They say only about 11 percent survive.

Geneticists, botanists and conservationists are working to bring back the chestnut. Volunteers from Miami University and the foundation worked with the U.S. Forest Service in the fall to plant more than 1,000 American chestnut hybrids in Wayne National Forest.

“The fungus is here,” said Carolyn Keiffer, president of the Ohio Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation and a Miami University biology professor. “So we needed to figure out a way to come up with trees that would be resistant to that.”

The hybrids Ohio is planting are a mix of American and Chinese chestnut trees. Scientists are working to combine the two using a genetic process called backcrossing, which allows some genes from the Chinese chestnut to be present in its American cousin.

They are hoping for a tree that resists blight, like the Chinese chestnut, but still looks like an American chestnut.

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