In France, ancient forests are resurging — growing bigger every year

France's forests are even creeping up on their major cities.

In France, ancient forests are resurging — growing bigger every year
Photo credit: Tim de Waele / Getty Images
  • Forests account for over 31 percent of France's land.
  • While most of the world is losing woodland to farmland, France is gaining.
  • France has both a public and private effort working on reforesting rural and urban areas.

Deforestation plagues vast swathes of the world. As rainforests are decimated — an unthinkable amount of trees are destroyed every second. Yet, in Europe this trend seems to have reversed.

Look no further than Provence, France, where resurged greenery cuts through mountain passes and sprouts up to form one of France's newest natural parks — the Baronnies Provençales. Set up only four years ago, and spreading more than 1,800 square kilometers (approx. 700 square miles), this mixed forest of oak, pine and beech is a testament to France's dedication to regrowing their ancient forests.

While the forests of the world are on the decline, those in France are quietly rising.

Successful reforestation effort

The French start-up EcoTree, launched near Brest in 2016, buys forests all over France to restore them. Photo credit: FRED TANNEAU / AFP / Getty Images

Current estimates show that forests cover 31 percent of France. The country is ranked fourth, in terms of largest forests, within the European Union. It is only surpassed by Sweden, Finland, and Spain.

Due to a concentrated reforestation effort and decline in farming, the past 30 years has seen France's forested areas increase by 7 percent. This hasn't been resigned just to France either. During the 1990s, Europe initiated something called the Common Agricultural Policy, which ensured only productive areas would be used as cropland to prevent inefficient farming. Land that was lacking was turned back into forest.

Between 1990 and 2015, Europe's total forestland grew 90,000 square kilometers — about 35,000 square miles. There has been so much progress, in fact, that there are more trees and larger forests in the EU today than there were at the start of the 20th century.

France's success can be contributed to a collective effort of private individuals and public forestry initiatives working together. A majority of the forests are on private land. With a total of 16.4 million hectares and increasing every day, new French forests reclaim old agricultural and industrial wastelands to fuel their growth.

The trees and plants being planted will do well to keep up with carbon dioxide absorption demands and fight climate change. Already within the Baronnies Provençales natural park, people are beginning to see rare species, such as the black vulture, reemerge.

Still, the new forests aren't without their fair share of complex problems and challenges.

Reforestation challenges 

There are some 34,000 people who live inside the new Baronnies Provençales. Some of the inhabitants see the black pine as a pest, which sometimes grows on their pastureland. The Economist notes that there was an initial backlash from local groups who were wary at the rapid pace at which the forest was being reclaimed. Audrey Matt, who is in charge of the park's forests, is on record saying, "The fact that forests are growing here can be problematic… It all depends which way round you look at it."

Many forests in France and Europe have become scarred with the scourge of beetle infestation. Also with the risks of extended heatwaves, these new forests are liable to burst into flames amid dry weather and turn into dangerous wildfires.

Yet, the benefits still outweigh many of the potential problems. Which is why France is also taking its reforestation efforts into the urban realm as well.

Urban forests in Paris

Photo credit: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT /AFP / Getty Images

Mayor Anne Hidalgo recently announced a new greenery plan for the city of Paris. One that's going to bring more forests right into the city itself.

The plan is to begin planting forests near many of Paris's historic landmarks, such as Hôtel de Ville (Paris's city hall) and the Opéra Garnier. These groves will be placed in both busy and dormant pedestrian areas. Part beautification, part practical, the trees will alleviate intense heat during the increasingly sweltering summer months.

Paris is more susceptible than most places during a heatwave as it's considered an urban heat island. The mayor intends to counteract that with what she calls an "isle of coolness."

If all goes according to plan, 20,000 trees will be planted by 2020. The capstone of the goal is to cover half of the City of Light's acreage with trees by 2030.

Paris could have a potentially radical new look with the simple addition of all of this beautiful foliage.

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It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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