Canadian scientists have discovered a way to clone elm trees, which for decades, have have fallen victim to the deadly Dutch elm disease. It is believed that their findings could become a model to preserve, and successfully grow, thousands of endangered plants around the globe.

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The study, published Thursday in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research, is the first known procedure that uses in vitro technologies to replicate the buds of mature American elm trees. One scientist, Praveen Saxena, said that the research at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, brings the possibility of restoring American elm trees throughout North America.

American elm trees, introduced in 1928, were once a common sight along city streets in American and Canadian cities and suburbs. To date, over 95 percent of these trees have died because of Dutch elm disease. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the epidemic has wiped out most of the trees in the United Kingdom as well. However, one in 100,000 elm trees carries a natural resistance to the infection.

Saxana and his team extracted samples from surviving elm trees in Ontario and cultivated genetic copies from dormant buds and shoot tips. After raising those copied trees, the scientists hope to glean genetic material with traits that can resist Dutch elm disease. In turn these plants could assist elm breeding and conservation programs around the world. The scientists benefited from a bank of 17 genetic collections from trees that have survived throughout Ontario. The technique, called micropropagation, also included samples from a 100 year-old tree growing on the University of Guelph campus.

With urban sprawl becoming a growing problem in North American cities, the need to conserve endangered species like the American elm has become more urgent. So, could ancient plants be next on the cloning agenda?

Via Daily Mail, New York Times, University of Guelph

Photos courtesy Wikipedia, State of Connecticut