The Big Idea: Clone Ancient Trees to Save Planet Earth
by Dawn Raffel
David Milarch is a pioneering spirit who believes that cloning huge ancient trees—such as the remaining Giant Sequoias in California— is the key to saving the planet. He explains: “Because they are survivors—several hundred to several thousand years old—they hold the entire genetic history of their species and they are one of the key components of ecosystem structure. For hundreds of years man has been logging the biggest, strongest trees, so that today our forests are left with the genetic runts. Planting clones of the “champion” trees will strengthen the gene pool of our forests. We need to plant the strongest, hardiest trees, and also the most adaptable ones—those that will survive the changes in our climate.”
A former shade tree nurseryman, Milarch has persuaded a fair number of previously skeptical scientists. “Experts told me that it was impossible to clone the ancient trees—that cloning a 3,000-year-old redwood would be akin to asking a 75-year-old woman to give birth,” he says. “But we succeeded. Right now we have a many thousands are growing in a propagation facility in Copemish, Michigan. Each one of the babies is a world’s first.”
Here’s a very cool video of Milarch describing the project at a TED talk.
And here’s an inside-view video the new clones of 3000-year-old trees.
If you’d still like to know more, check out The Man Who Planted Trees, a biography of Milarch by Jim Robbins that makes for fascinating reading, not just about the science but about how one man with a vision and a passion acted on his beliefs.