If the greatest living American were a tree, it would probably be the chestnut. Nat King Cole sang about it. Abraham Lincoln probably built his log cabin from it. The telegraph era, which required tall poles of strong wood, was enabled by it.
In the first half of the 20th century, however, the American chestnut fell victim to a fungus unintentionally imported from China, and the tree that once dominated the forest canopy of the eastern U.S. all but disappeared. Now it is on the cusp of a comeback, a testament to America’s scientific ingenuity.
For years, scientists tried without success to develop a strain of chestnut tree that was immune, using traditional hybridization methods to instill resistance from Chinese chestnut trees into the American variety. Now plant scientists have found a way to develop a chestnut tree that fights off the fungus.