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article imageThe DNA of ancient giant trees could possibly save our forests

By Karen Graham     Feb 12, 2019 in Science
What if we could revive giant creatures that once roamed the Earth? Well, that’s what arborists are doing today, only they’re cloning saplings from the stumps of the world’s largest, strongest, and longest-lived trees, the giant redwoods.
The redwood species contains the largest and tallest trees in the world. Sequoioideae (redwoods) is a subfamily of coniferous trees within the family Cupressaceae. and is the most common tree in coastal forests of Northern California. The three redwood subfamily genera are Sequoia and Sequoiadendron of California and Oregon, and Metasequoia in China.
Only the two subfamily genera found in the United States produce the world's tallest and largest trees. Some of the redwoods have been known to live for thousands of years, with the earliest fossil remains being from the Jurassic period.
There aren't too many redwoods today that can claim to be that old - they have been cut down. The two sub-families of redwoods are considered endangered species due to habitat loss, natural fire suppression technologies, and logging.
People and horses on a downed redwood. Circa-1900. Comment by David C. Foster: Unknown Photo History...
People and horses on a downed redwood. Circa-1900. Comment by David C. Foster: Unknown Photo History. I'm fairly certain the tree was a Coast Redwood (Sequoia semperviren) or a Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) from Central to Northern California or Oregon. I wish this one was still standing. The bark has already been stripped off of it.
David C. Foster
Perhaps the greatest impact on the demise of the giant trees was logging in the 19th and 20th centuries. When the western part of the country opened up and as more and more people migrated across the plains to the West Coast, the giant redwoods, some with a diameter of over 35 feet, were cut down for their lumber to build homes - with the rest of the groves eventually being decimated by the logging industry.
Restoring the redwood to its former glory
Now, West Coast redwoods are in trouble, with 95 percent of their old-growth habitat gone. Archangel is attempting to restore these old-growth forests - mature ecological communities with the oldest individuals, and perhaps the strongest genes. The genetic makeup of the oldest of the giant trees holds the secret to their resistance to disease and fire.
“Most redwoods don’t live to be 1,000 years old, and only two to three percent live to be 2,000 to 3,000 years old,” says David Milarch, founder of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, a US nonprofit that propagates the world’s largest trees. “We’re looking for the biggest, oldest trees with the strongest immune systems who can survive in current climate conditions. We know something is special about them.”
The General Sherman Tree is the world s largest tree  measured by volume. It stands 275 feet (83 m) ...
The General Sherman Tree is the world's largest tree, measured by volume. It stands 275 feet (83 m) tall, and is over 36 feet (11 m) in diameter at the base. Sequoia trunks remain wide high up. Sixty feet above the base, the Sherman Tree is 17.5 feet (5.3 m) in diameter.
National Parks Service
Working with the experts, Archangel has perfected the technique of extracting DNA from these long, lost trees. While examining some old, presumably dead, redwood tree stumps, Milarch and his son Jake discovered living tissue growing from the trees’ roots, a material known as baseless or stump sprouts.
According to Yale Environment 360, The Milarchs collected DNA from the stumps of five giant coast redwoods, all larger than the largest tree living today. These included a giant sequoia known as General Sherman with a 25-foot diameter.
Using the genetic material, and in a process that takes about 2-and-a-half years, Archangel was able to grow dozens of saplings, clones of the ancient trees. The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive has already planted nearly 100 of these saplings in the Eden Project garden in Cornwall, England, a couple hundred in Oregon, and is organizing further groves of saplings in nine other countries.
The interesting thing about the cloned saplings being planted around the world is this: The young trees are planted in places where coastal redwoods do not grow naturally, but the locales all have cool temperatures and sufficient fog for the redwoods, which drink moisture from the air in summer rather than relying on rain. Milarch calls this “assisted migration.”
Jake and David Milarch
Jake and David Milarch
Archangel Ancient Tree Archive
The Fairy Ring
The cloning project was not thought to be possible, at first. But did you know that redwoods are "self-cloning?" Decades before the trees die, they send out a circle of identical growths, called “a fairy ring,” 20 ft around the host tree. But trees that die before their time, like being chopped down, don't have time to send out a "fairy ring."
Milarch and his colleagues found another way to revive the 3,000-year-old growths about five years ago, working with the Presidio Trust. ”It’s as if the dinosaurs were being brought back to life,” he says. Instead of a "fairy Ring," the stumps, once thought to be dead, were surrounded by basal sprouts, live material growing in shoots right around the base.
More about ancient trees, redwoods, family Cupressaceae, ARCHANGEL ANCIENT TREE ARCHIVE, Climate change
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