HomeEnvironmentCloning the world's oldest trees to fight climate change

Cloning the world’s oldest trees to fight climate change

David Milarch set up Ancient Tree Archive in 1994 with a mission to protect and preserve ancient trees.

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Ancient Tree Archive is cloning the world’s oldest trees to fight climate change. 130 species of trees have been cloned so far. Redwoods are one of the most cloned trees, with 15,000 of the giant trees growing at Archangel’s facility in Copemish. They describe this as creating a ‘living library’ of old-growth trees.

Milarch clones the trees from cuttings from the very tops of the trees. So far he and his team have grown seedlings from 5,000 year-old Methuselah, as well as 3,000 year old sequoia trees. Scientists originally said that it was impossible to clone a sequoia tree over 80 years-old, yet Milarch proved them wrong. By climbing to the top of the trees he took cuttings from new-growth branches, which had not yet been affected by the trees hormones and chemicals that don’t allow trees to be cloned. The cutting samples are then added to a sterile foam cube, along with a mix of hormones.

“We went from a 3-4 per cent success rate to a 97 per cent success rate by using these foam cubes with the hormones,” says Milarch.

Giant sequoias have recently been affected by wildfires in the US. Before 2015 the oldest of the sequoias had managed to withstand wildfires, but since then over 10% of the 75,000 trees over 122cm in diameter have been destroyed. Archangel puts this down to climate change. Reestablishing old-growth forests can ultimately help in the fight against climate change, as older trees is the more carbon it can store.

Climate change may be one reason for the loss of ancient trees, but many old trees are also cut down due to their sheer size, and money that can be made from harvesting such a large tree. By cloning these trees the Ancient Tree Archive keeps the genetic line of ancient trees going. These ancient trees have proven themselves able to withstand many environmental changes. One famous tree, named General Sherman can store 86 years’ worth of carbon. General Sherman is 83.8 meters tall and 7.7 meters in diameter.

General Sherman tree. Image from Pinterest.

“The particular combination of genetics they contain can bridge over the intervening centuries and contribute genes that are beneficial under environmental extremes that have not been present for hundreds of years. They are vital to a forest long-term adaptive capacity.” says Chuck Cannon, who is the Director of the Morton Arboretum’s Center for Tree Science in Illinois.

Ancient Tree Archive combines the genetics of the strongest and more resilient ancient trees to promote diversity amongst the forests it is creating. This makes the trees resistant to disease. The organisation recently grew clones of the Waterfall Tree and others and planted the seedlings into forests which were destroyed by wildfires. The non-profit believes it will be possible to plant 5 million trees in 4 years.

Milarch describes his project as the “most hopeful project on the planet.”

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