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World's Oldest Living Trees Cloned: Group Plants Duplicates on Earth Day

First Posted: Apr 22, 2013 08:21 AM EDT

Standing over three hundred feet tall with a diameter that can reach up to 40 feet, giant sequoias are the largest trees in the world; they're only outdone by the slightly slimmer and slightly taller giant redwoods. While their size is impressive, though, what really has scientists interested is their age. These trees can live for thousands of years and, in consequence, can store vast amounts of carbon. Now, after two decades of tracking down the world's oldest trees, a group has announced that it plans to plant the clones of these trees in a bid to help restore ancient forests and fight climate change.

The group, the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, has already developed several thousand genetic copies of both redwoods and giant sequoias from California at its laboratory. Measuring just 18 inches tall, these tiny trees are duplicates from just three giant trees that were cut down over a century ago. Now, they plan to plant these copies around the world.

Actually creating the genetic copies wasn't easy. First, they tracked down the remains of the three giants, which have stumps that measure 35 or more feet in diameter. One in particular, named the Fieldbrook Stump near McKinleyville, is estimated to be about 4,000 feet old and was about 40 stories high before it was cut down. After locating the remains from these trees, they collecting living material and then began the process of generating roots from the specimens in order to grow them into genetic duplicates of the trees. The $2 million effort took four years to complete.

"This is the first step toward mass production," said David Milarch, co-founder of the nonprofit group, in an interview with ABC News. "We need to reforest the planet; it's imperative. To do that, it just makes sense to use the largest, oldest, most iconic trees that ever lived."

Actual efforts to preserve these old trees started in 1996, but it wasn't until 2008 that the organization turned to genetics and began ramping up efforts to produce cloned trees. Now, the group plans to plant the clones in nine different locations in seven different countries on Earth Day. These countries include Germany, Ireland, Wales, England, New Zealand, Australia and the United States. The organization hopes that by planting them in various climates and locations, their chance of long-term survival in the face of climate change will be ensured.

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