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TACF Staff Visits USFS Southern Region Staff

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by Samantha Bowers, TACF Grants Manager

In January, TACF staff met with U.S. Forest Service – Southern Region staff to discuss the long time partnership between the two organizations.  At the Chattooga River District office in Lakemont, GA, fun topics like policy and memorandums of understanding were discussed at length.  You wish you had been there, right?

On a more serious note, Director of Science, Jared Westbrook gave a presentation on what’s ahead for TACF.  He discussed how merging genomics and biotechnology with the breeding program will accelerate the restoration of the American chestnut.  We are embracing a multifaceted approach we refer to as 3BUR: Breeding, Biocontrol, Biotechnology, United for Restoration.  You can read more about 3BUR here.

Jared shared that TACF is not only working towards resistance for chestnut blight, Cryphonectria parasitica, but also for root rot disease, Phytophthora cinnamomi.  Did you know P. cinnamomi extirpated the American chestnut from the Southeastern coastal plain of the U.S. prior to chestnut blight? Selection and breeding for P. cinnamomi resistance is a secondary objective of TACF’s breeding program. Screening of BC3-F3 seedlings from the Meadowview breeding program will take place at the U.S. Forest Service Resistance Screening Center in Asheville this year.

We are increasing speed and accuracy through early phenotypic screening that will increase the average resistance of trees in seed orchards.  Infrared spectroscopy is an early screening tool we can use without labor-intensive inoculations.  Let me stress, that inoculations are intense; I know this first hand.  Within months of starting my career with TACF last year, I was enlisted to assist with 600 individual inoculations on B3F2 saplings at our Meadowview Research Farm in Abingdon, VA, but I digress.  Dr. Anna Conrad with the University of Kentucky is currently researching this method where metabolites in stem tissue are correlated with pathogen resistance via wavelength absorbance.

And, that’s not all folks.  Dr. Jason Holiday with Virginia Tech is researching genomic prediction of disease resistance.  So far, we know genetic markers do better than chance at predicting canker phenotypes of Graves BC3-F2s.

Jared finished his presentation with the news that TACF will work with Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology, a cutting edge nonprofit biotechnology firm, to reference the genome for the American chestnut.  This is made possible by recent grant funding totaling $600,000 provided by the Colcom Foundation, the Allegheny Foundation and a foundation asked to be anonymous.

In awe of TACF’s momentum forward, we closed the day with pondering if the American chestnut could be considered a specialty crop.  The eastern black walnut, Juglans nigra, is considered such, which holds potential to opening doors to more funding opportunities.  As the Grants Manager with TACF, I liked the sound of that.

P.S. Have you thanked a US Forest Service public servant recently?  They have built a legacy of caring for land and serving people.  The USFS administers the nation’s 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands, which encompass 193 million acres.