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Science + Tech

The Urgent Need for a Living Library of Trees

The firestorm wiping out species in Australia should redouble our efforts.

Diana Beresford-Kroeger 28 Feb 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Diana Beresford-Kroeger is an Irish botanist, medical biochemist, filmmaker and best-selling author living in Merrickville, Ontario.

[Editor’s note: During The Tyee’s visit with Diana Beresford-Kroeger all this week (the series is here), she shared her tea, whiskey, knowledge and wisdom. She also wishes to share with readers this call to action.]

A decade ago, I wrote a master plan for protecting the global forest. It was hand delivered across the world and sometimes by private jet. That’s how valuable the contents were to science.

The plan has the utmost value, now that Australia has given us a hard lesson. The recent fires have played havoc with biodiversity and even complete genera have been lost. These species are gone forever.

My colleague, Professor E. O. Wilson of Harvard University, has said it all in his introduction to my book Arboretum Americana: “Who speaks for the trees, speaks for all of nature...” In other words, without trees there would not be a living planet as we know and recognize it today.

There is no safety net for trees across the globe. There isn’t even a seed bank for forests, let alone just for the trees. Like our food crops, trees produce seeds. These come from the sexual fertilization of a female egg with a male sperm and sometimes not. A living bank of tree seeds must be put together to either mend or amend what remains of our global forests.

My suggestion is natural cloning. This process is similar to medicinal stem cell cloning where the DNA is unchanged and remains in its native form. The cloned tissue from the wild is then kept at reduced temperatures below zero degrees in perpetuity. In case of a climate change disaster similar to Australia’s current case, recovery could be initiated from stored material.

The wonder of this is that a whole forest can be kept in a small box; the global forest, in an even bigger box—about the size of an average kitchen table. The cold temperatures are maintained until the tissue is needed to regenerate the forest.

I ran out of support, not to mention money, to begin this cloning project. The idea is there. It will live until it is needed. You can’t kill a good idea. It lives and so will the forest.  [Tyee]

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