Since the emerald ash borer, a beetle native to Asia, was first discovered in Michigan in 2002, it has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees across North America and caused tens of billions of dollars of damage. But researchers have found that a few ash trees appear to have some ability to resist the beetle. Forest geneticist Jennifer Koch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture now is trying to use those resistant trees to breed new strains of ash that could be used to restore devastated forests. Some scientists doubt the approach will work, but Koch has already had some preliminary success breeding more resistant trees. If she is successful, she hopes the same approach could be used to breed other North American trees threatened by exotic pests and diseases. Genes providing protection must lurk among the billions of trees growing across the continent, Koch believes. “Genetic variation,” she says, “is a very powerful survival mechanism.”
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