Trees play an incredibly important role in the planet’s ecosystem and are one of our greatest allies in the fight against climate change, making Milarch’s work especially relevant today.
The most cloned trees in the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive are giant sequoias and redwoods. The ancient sequoias have huge trunks with bark as thick as 45 cm and can grow over 90 meters tall. These trees have impressively survived thousands of years of wildfires and diseases.
Despite having endured for millennia, these elderly trees are at risk of being erased from the face of the earth due to increasingly intense climate change-driven wildfires. “Giant sequoias are one of the most fire-adapted plants on Earth,” says Christy Brigham from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “And yet we have created fires that are capable of killing them through fuel loading and hotter droughts.”
Before 2015, the sequoias proved impenetrable, but since then, the wildfires have become so powerful that even these massive sequoias faced destruction. Last year, between 10 and 14 percent of the 75,000 trees larger than 122 cm in diameter were lost.
Fighting climate change
“The redwoods that we’re cloning are 2,000-4,000 years old, and we have no idea how they can be that old,” Milarch exclaims.
“If we’re going to help reverse climate change by reforesting the planet, why not use the trees that are proven winners?”
Milarch and his team study the genetics of the ancient trees, arming themselves with information that may help with the NGO’s overarching goal: to reforest the planet with trees that are resistant to global warming.
A tree called General Sherman, which is thought to be the largest tree on Earth by volume was studied, and scientists found that this tree alone can store approximately 86 years’ worth of an individual’s carbon emissions.
According to Milarch, these ancient trees can sequester ten times more CO2 than an average tree, which is why he believes that repopulating the world with ancient trees is an effective way of fighting climate change.
“We found 130 different species of trees all over the world. We found 22 1,000-year-old oaks in Ireland,” he adds.
Milarch says it’s possible to clone five million trees within four years using only one small sample from a healthy ancient tree and applying a specific approach to replanting.
How do they clone the trees?
The team takes samples from the top branches of healthy ancient trees, and then adds them to a sterile foam cube with a cocktail of hormones.
“We went from a three to four percent success rate to a 97 percent success rate by using these foam cubes with the hormones,” he says.
To ensure that the repopulation of ancient trees still promotes biodiversity, the DNA of the strongest and most ancient trees is mixed, resulting in trees that are even more resistant to diseases.
Milarch’s NGO also believes that by collaborating with laboratories across the globe, it will be possible to replant millions of highly resistant species that are native to wherever they take root.
Currently, the NGO is partnering with students to plant seedlings in the Sierra Nevada mountains, to test whether the genes that allowed the parent trees to survive for so long will help new saplings adapt to a warming planet.