Genetically engineered super redwoods will save us from ourselves

Here is a photo of a “super redwood” that was cut down, for some unknown reason, in 1890.

Source: Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

That tree was over 400 feet tall and more than 3,000 years old when it was cut down.

Imagine living through everything the planet can throw at you over the course of 3,000 years and then being felled by a simple saw in a matter of hours.

Well, that tree has now been cloned. And its clone was planted along 74 other super redwoods on 14 December.

From (the admittedly hippie-sounding) Mother Nature Network:

The trees were planted on Dec. 14 by Archangel Ancient Tree Archive (AATA), a nonprofit group that creates “living libraries of old-growth tree genetics.” Each sapling was sourced from one of five ancient stumps in Northern California, remnants of redwoods that were all larger than the largest tree standing today, a giant sequoia known as General Sherman. After discovering the stumps were still alive, AATA co-founder David Milarch and his team led an expedition to clone them.

The crazy thing about this story is that those giant redwood stumps were still alive, more than a century after being cut down.

According to Archangel Ancient Tree Archive:

Once mature, coastal redwoods can sequester up to 250 tons or more of carbon dioxide. Champion coastal redwoods are also highly resistant to wildfires, pests, and droughts.

“These trees have the capacity to fight climate change and revitalize forests and our ecology in a way we haven’t seen before,” says David Milarch, co-founder of Ancient Tree Archive.

I saw an interesting comment about this story on Reddit, which makes a lot more sense to me than it probably should.

Here’s what the user “FF00A7” had to say:

In the future, redwoods will be genetically CRISPR modified to be super-fast growing. Each tree contains 250 tons of C02 full grown. To stop global warming 25 billion tons a year need to be captured and stored.

That would equate to 100 million giant redwoods every year. The dead wood will replace concrete and steel using cross-laminated timber, a layered composite that rivals the strength of steel.

It will be sequestered as building material, roads etc… A civilization built on redwood, grow from the off-gassing of a previous fossil-fuel civilization.

The Age of Redwood.

Does that really sound so crazy?

We hear a lot about that CRISPR can do – if you’re not familiar with CRISPR and what it can do, publisher Nick O’Connor’s book is a great start, which you can get for free here – but no real progress yet.

If CRISPR really could be used to make trees grow faster, that would be an amazing way to reduce C02 and, as the commenter said, source building material and fuel.

I still can’t decide if that comment is ridiculous, or the best idea I have seen on the internet, potentially ever.

What do you think? Let me know: harry@southbankresearch.com.

Staying on a trees theme…

“It’s not Big Brother – it’s today’s reality… there is nothing secret any more”

That’s a quote from Benjamin Ware, global head of responsible sourcing at Nestle.

Yes. Nestle, the chocolate company.

But this Big Brother story is not like the others. For one, it involves a chocolate company, not an internet one. And for two, it’s a positive one.

From Reuters:

Some of the world’s major palm oil users, including Nestle, Unilever, and Mondelez, are trying out new satellite technology to track deforestation, as pressure grows on them to source the ingredient responsibly.

Palm oil buyers have toyed with satellite imagery for years, but have now ramped up their use as they rush to meet a pledge of zero net deforestation by 2020, set by global umbrella body the Consumer Goods Forum.

The oil is in nearly half of all packaged goods from chocolate to soap, and is also used as a cooking oil and in biofuel.

As sustainability becomes more of a buzzword, multinational brands are trying to keep shoppers from switching to independent start-up brands, which often tout green credentials.

After beef and soy, palm oil one of the main causes of deforestation.

As you can see in the excerpt above, the big brands have stated they will go “deforestation neutral” by 2020.

To help them in doing so, Nestle will use satellite images to trace where deforestation is happening and cut off the supplier doing it.

Once a supplier is spotted not following the rules, it will have 60 days to clean up its act or it will be dumped.

The system it will use to do this monitoring is, unsurprisingly, named like a Cold War-spying programme: Starling.

I have no idea why companies and governments insist on calling their Big Brother-like programmes Big Brother-like names. But it doesn’t seem like a practice that will end any time soon.

I still can’t believe that the spying collusion programme between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand is officially called Five Eyes.

If you paid a decent ad agency to come up with a more dystopian name than that they would fail. Although maybe that’s the point, they want it to inspire fear.

But there is no reason for Nestle to conjure up Cold War images for the name of its initiative. This should be seen as a good thing, a way to stop deforestation.

But I suppose it’s still pretty dystopian for the ones doing the deforestation. I guess maybe we should be happy about that.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Genetics and Biotechnology

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