The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) encourages and welcomes volunteers to assist with all steps of the traditional breeding program. For information about activities in your area, please visit your local Chapter or view the TACF calendar.
Traditional breeding programs involve multiple steps, almost all of which are resource intensive.
Each chestnut species – of which there are about seven – varies with regard to blight-resistance. Blighted North American chestnut species usually die, while blighted Asiatic chestnuts typically suffer only cosmetic damage. With that in mind, Chinese and Japanese chestnuts offer a potential solution to the American tree’s susceptibility to chestnut blight through hybridization.
Though the breeding and associated regions are the heart of TACF’s work, no good breeding program should depend solely on one method or material creation. As such, there are several different lines of research and breeding strategies that are being performed, such as backcross breeding, the incorporation of multiple sources of resistance, and the utilization of recurrent selection.
TACFs original founder, Dr. Burnham, suggested that a minimum of six-generations would be needed to create a blight-resistant American chestnut. But breeding is not the only phase of restoration, and TACF cannot stop at the first sixth-generation material created.
Some breeding lines will likely be better than others, and TACF still has many years of breeding lines in the background being readied for testing. Future lines of breeding will always look to improve on what has already been created.
As such, one can think of TACF’s breeding program as analogous to software development. The first lines won’t have all the bells and whistles of Windows 10 or Mac OS Sierra. This will be version 1, maybe akin to Windows 95 or Mac OS 6. The material created will continually be improved with each subsequent line that is released and/or included in the breeding process.
In addition, restoration of a species is the goal. As such, we need as much diversity in our breeding program as possible. As TACF moves forward, it will be vital to incorporate more American chestnuts, more Japanese and Chinese chestnuts, and different types of breeding strategies that will help create a self-sustaining American chestnut population for many generations to come.