Concerns over the role of pests in potentially transforming our landscape and even threatening the restoration of the American chestnut have never been greater. Those involved in breeding for blight resistance are concerned not just about cryphonectria parasitica (chestnut blight) but also about breeding for resistance to other exotic pathogens such as Phytophthora cinnamomi and pests such as the Asian Longhorned Beetle as well as others known and yet to come.
I was therefore interested to see a news release by the US Endowment for Forests and Communities describing a new broad-based initiative specifically targeted to the American chestnut. In their words …
The partnership is designed to assess the potential to develop and deploy scientifically-sound, socially acceptable and rigorously vetted/regulated approaches that might see the benefits of biotechnology used in the fight against the ever increasing list of alien pests and diseases that threaten North America's forests.
The partnership ? “Advancing Forest Health through Biotechnology” — is a three-year perhaps $10M effort that will use the American chestnut as the test tree. The Endowment has pledged $1M to the effort and will serve on the Steering Committee along with other core funding partners, the USDA Forest Service and Duke Energy.
The US Endowment for Forests and Communities is affiliated with the Forest Health Initiative which supports protecting trees (the American chestnut) through the pathways including: breeding, genomics and transformation. The Forest Health Initiative has an affiliation with The American Chestnut Foundation – though I am not familiar with all the terms of that association.
This is very exciting news! Several years ago Dr. Chuck Maynard presented his transgenic chestnut work to the CT Chapter and we found his work to be exciting, optimistic, and positively brimming with potential. Pragmatically, it appears this approach is still in the formative and proving phase, though success is eagerly anticipated.
Restoration is a complex problem solving not just today's ecological challenges but also those of tomorrow. Peer reviewed and accepted solutions provides great hope for success. Funding a balanced solution – the pathways previously mentioned – plus significant planning for the restoration phase, should provide the best path for success.
My affiliation with the chestnut restoration community gives me great confidence that we have the intellectual power to find and implement the right solutions. Scientists such as Fred Hebard, Kim Stiener, Chuck Maynard (and many others) have devoted their careers to the research of solutiona to the decimation caused by pathogens such as the Chestnut blight. Leveraging the strengths of these collective individuals, and funding their vision will ensure that we are the eventual beneficiaries.
This partnership with the USFA, Duke Energy and US Endowment is just another welcome milestone in supporting the type of scientific efforts needed to move us to the restoration phase with a true hope for success.