Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Genetic evidence clears Ben Franklin: Invasive tree afflicting Gulf Coast was not brought to U.S. by famed statesman

Date:
July 29, 2011
Source:
Rice University
Summary:
The DNA evidence is in, and Ben Franklin didn't do it. Genetic tests on more than 1,000 Chinese tallow trees from the United States and China show that Franklin did not import the tallow trees that are overrunning thousands of acres of U.S. coastal prairie from Florida to East Texas. The study found that the invasive strain of the tree was likely imported by federal biologists around 1905.

Invasive Chinese tallow trees have overrun thousands of acres of tall grass coastal prairie on the US Gulf Coast.
Credit: Rice University

The DNA evidence is in, and Ben Franklin didn't do it.

Related Articles


Genetic tests on more than 1,000 Chinese tallow trees from the United States and China show the famed U.S. statesman did not import the tallow trees that are overrunning thousands of acres of U.S. coastal prairie from Florida to East Texas.

"It's widely known that Franklin introduced tallow trees to the U.S. in the late 1700s," said Rice University biologist Evan Siemann, co-author the new study in this month's American Journal of Botany. "Franklin was living in London, and he had tallow seeds shipped to associates in Georgia."

What Franklin couldn't have known at the time was that tallow trees would overachieve in the New World. Today, the trees are classified as an invasive species. Like Asian carp in the Great Lakes and kudzu vines in the eastern U.S., the trees are spreading so fast that they're destroying native habitats and causing economic damage.

Each tallow tree can produce up to a half million seeds per year. That fertility is one reason Franklin and others were interested in them; each seed is covered by a waxy, white tallow that can be processed to make soap, candles and edible oil.

Siemann, professor and chair of ecology and evolutionary biology at Rice, has spent more than 10 years compiling evidence on the differences between U.S. and Chinese tallow trees. For example, the insects that help keep tallow trees in check in Asia do not live in the U.S., and Siemann and his colleagues have found that the U.S. trees invest far less energy in producing chemicals that ward off insects. They've also found that U.S. trees grow about 30 percent faster than their Chinese kin.

"This raises some interesting scientific questions," Siemann said. "Are tallow trees in the U.S. undergoing evolutionary selection? Did those original plants brought from China have the traits to be successful or did they change after they arrived? Does it matter where they came from in China, or would any tallow tree do just as well in the U.S.?"

In 2005, Siemann set out to gather genetic evidence that could help answer such questions. With funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Agriculture, he and study co-authors William Rogers, now at Texas A&M University, and Saara DeWalt, now at Clemson University, collected and froze leaves from more than 1,000 tallow trees at 51 sites in the U.S. and a dozen sites in China. The researchers conducted hundreds of genetic scans on the leaves, and they spent more than two years analyzing and correlating the results.

There were a few surprises. First, the tallow trees that are running amok in most of the U.S. aren't from the batch that Franklin imported. The descendants of Franklin's trees are confined to a few thousand square miles of coastal plain in northern Georgia and southern South Carolina. All other U.S. tallow trees the team sampled were descended from seeds brought to the U.S. by federal biologists around 1905.

"The genetic picture for Franklin's trees is muddled; we may never know where they originated," Siemann said. "But the genetic evidence for the other population -- the one that's problematic in the Gulf Coast -- clearly points to it being descended from eastern China, probably in the area around Shanghai."

In controlled tests in China, the researchers found the U.S. trees even grew and spread faster than their Chinese forebears, despite the lack of chemical defenses to ward off insects.

"They suffered twice the damage from insects that the natives did, but they grew so much faster that they still retained a competitive edge," Siemann said.

"In some ways, this raises even more questions, but it clearly shows that if you are going to explore control methods for an invasive species, you to need to use appropriate genetic material to make certain your tests are valid."

Siemann said that with many new species of plants and animals still being introduced from foreign environments into the U.S. each year, it is vitally important for scientists to better understand the circumstances that cause introduced species to cross the line and become dangerous invasive pests.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Rice University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. S. J. DeWalt, E. Siemann, W. E. Rogers. Geographic distribution of genetic variation among native and introduced populations of Chinese tallow tree, Triadica sebifera (Euphorbiaceae). American Journal of Botany, 2011; 98 (7): 1128 DOI: 10.3732/ajb.1000297

Cite This Page:

Rice University. "Genetic evidence clears Ben Franklin: Invasive tree afflicting Gulf Coast was not brought to U.S. by famed statesman." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 July 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110728162631.htm>.
Rice University. (2011, July 29). Genetic evidence clears Ben Franklin: Invasive tree afflicting Gulf Coast was not brought to U.S. by famed statesman. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110728162631.htm
Rice University. "Genetic evidence clears Ben Franklin: Invasive tree afflicting Gulf Coast was not brought to U.S. by famed statesman." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110728162631.htm (accessed October 26, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) EU leaders achieve a show of unity by striking a compromise deal on carbon emissions. But David Cameron's bid to push back EU budget contributions gets a slap in the face as the European Commission demands an extra 2bn euros. David Pollard reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) A rare tornado ripped roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and shattered windows Thursday afternoon in the southwest Washington city of Longview, but there were no reports of injuries. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Newsy (Oct. 24, 2014) Lava from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has accelerated as it travels toward a town called Pahoa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins