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This Tree Has Been Biologically Engineered to Grow 40 Different Kinds of Fruit

Biologists and engineers have come together to create some pretty amazing things over the past couple of years.

Thanks to stem cell research, we’re less than two years away from beginning the first ever human trials for synthetically manufactured blood. We’ve even made it possible to store data and medicine in our own skin. But outside the medical field, what can bioengineering do to have an immediate impact on the world at large?

Believe it or not, this enchanted-looking tree has the answer. According to Syracuse University professor Sam Van Aken, “It’s a combination of Dr. Seuss and Frankenstein and all things fantastic.” That’s because this tree is capable of growing forty different types of fruits from its boughs at the same time!

This video from National Geographic shows Professor Van Aken splicing and nurturing his “Tree of 40 fruits” using a technique called “chip grafting.” To do this, he cuts part of a tree’s branch off at an angle, then places a similarly cut branch from a different fruit-bearing tree directly on the cut. Then, using a plastic binding that acts like a mini greenhouse, the branches can heal together. After a few years of growth, the tree will begin to bear different fruit.

“Part of the idea behind the Tree of 40 Fruit was to plant them in locations that people would sort of stumble upon them,” Van Aken, a professor and an artist, tells National Geographic. “And once they happened upon one of these trees, they would start to question ‘Why are the leaves shaped differently?’ ‘Why are they different colors?’”

It’s pretty clear that his “Tree of 40 fruits” is definitely a work of art when it’s in bloom. It primarily grows stone fruits—apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines, and even almonds—in the summer. But the process takes a lot of patience and TLC. This first tree was grown in 2011 and is just now beginning to “bear the fruits” of the professor’s hard labor.

And according to IFLScience, Van Aken has planted even more of these trees in various locations around the country. You can find out here if one of Professor Van Aken’s trees has been planted near you. Imagine if we were able to plant and nurture more of these trees around our country, or even around the entire world.

If we can biologically engineer a tree of 40 fruits in Africa, for instance, we could introduce a continent mired in poverty to a bountiful food source—and provide lessons in biology and life sciences in the process! It’s a beautiful tree that holds an abundance of knowledge and nutrition. Still think that biology can’t have an impact outside the medical field?

Photo credit: IFL Science

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