Rescuing the American Chestnut Tree
Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at 7:30 P.M. at the Virginia Air and Space Center in downtown Hampton, Virginia
The American chestnut blight is the classic example of what happens when our forests succumb to exotic pests and pathogens. Because of its environmental, economic, and social importance, many tools have been brought to bear on the American chestnut blight problem. We have focused on enhancing blight resistance by adding only a couple genes to the approximately 38,000 gene pairs in the chestnut genome. The most promising gene to date, called oxalate oxidase (OxO), comes from bread wheat. According to chestnut leaf and small stem assays that predict the level of blight resistance, this OxO has raised resistance levels in American chestnut to at least as high as those found in the blight-resistant Chinese chestnut. The next step is to have the trees reviewed by the USDA, EPA, and FDA. Once approved, these blight-resistant American chestnut trees can be used to rescue the genetic diversity in the remnant, surviving population of American chestnut and be an additional tool for the restoration of this important keystone tree.
Dr. William A. Powell is a Professor in the Department of Environmental Forest Biology, State University of New York, Syracuse, NY. He is the Director of the Council on Biotechnology in Forestry, Director of the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Program, and the Roosevelt Wild Life Station Scientist-in-Residence. He has also worked with American elm and hybrid poplar. Dr. Powell currently has over fifty peer-reviewed publications and one patent.