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HOME | BACKGROUND | TISSUE CULTURE & TRANSFORMATION | BLIGHT RESISTANCE GENE SEARCH | DEMONSTRATION OF BLIGHT RESISTANCE

The American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project

Over the next five years, our goal is to grow ten thousand blight-resistant American chestnut trees to jumpstart the effort to restore the tree to its native range in North America. Take action right now and help us start off strong! By making a tax deductible contribution to our project, and by sharing this challenge with your friends and colleagues, you can join our team and help us begin the challenge of actually growing ten thousand blight-resistant trees.

Ready for Review!

We will soon be taking the blight resistant American chestnut trees through the federal regulatory review process involving the USDA, the EPA, and the FDA, which we expect to take several years to complete. Once approved, these trees will be distributed to the public at minimal costs in a not-for-profit program to restore the American chestnut tree, thereby benefiting our forests. This is a lengthy and costly process and we need your support to make this happen.

How can you get one of the transgenic trees?

Details for distribution of the blight resistant American chestnut trees, once they are approved for non-regulated status, are still being worked out between the SUNY-ESF and the NY chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACFNY). What we can say at this point in the deliberations is that TACFNY members will be first in line to receive trees (Join the national ACF to become a TACFNy member). We are also planning ways to offer trees to botanical gardens and arboretums for educational purposes, historic sites where chestnuts were important, and to set up restoration research plots. Soon after that they should be available to the general public and to start practical applications like mine reclamation projects. If we can produce 10,000 blight resistant American chestnut trees by the time we have federal approval, there should be enough to "prime the pump" of restoration. Support the 10,000 Chestnut Challenge!

American Chestnut Project Videos
ESF Research YouTube channel playlist

Background on American chestnut and chestnut blight Tissue culture and transformation of American chestnut The search for blight resistance enhancing genes

The American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project

The mission of the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Center is to conduct basic and applied research that will lead to the development of a blight-resistant American chestnut tree (Castanea dentata). Our goal is to reintroduce a population of these resistant trees back into forest ecosystems of New York and then the rest of the eastern United States.

The project has evolved from basic research into a multifaceted endeavor which includes such areas as the identification of plant pathogen resistance-enhancing genes, the development of American chestnut tissue culture, field testing chestnut trees from tissue culture, public participation through the identification of rare remnant survival chestnut trees, collection and exchange of viable nuts and the establishment of large restoration plantations throughout New York State.

Ongoing activities include basic research on various single and pyramided resistance-enhancing gene designs, identification of genes associated with Asian chestnut resistance, chestnut tissue culture and gene transfer into American chestnut trees, determination of the genetic diversity in surviving remnant chestnut populations, greenhouse and field testing of putative resistant transgenic trees, the collection of rare chestnut germplasm, and the establishment of germplasm archives throughout New York.

The concepts, techniques, and gene cassettes we are developing for American chestnut will also have broad applicability in managing diseases affecting the productivity of other important tree species such as Dutch-elm disease and elm yellows (which devastated another American heritage tree, the American elm, Ulmus americana) and Septoria leaf spot and canker disease of hybrid poplar (which is becoming a key biomass tree species).

Suggested Readings

Overview article:

Research articles:

  • Newhouse, AE, LD McGuigan, KA Baier, KE Valletta, WH Rottmann, TJ Tschaplinski, CA Maynard, WA Powell. 2014. Transgenic American chestnuts show enhanced blight resistance and transmit the trait to T1 progeny. Plant Science (in press)
  • Zhang B, AD Oakes, AE Newhouse, KM Baier, CA Maynard and WA Powell. 2013. A threshold level of oxalate oxidase transgene expression reduces Cryphonectria parasitica - induced necrosis in a transgenic American chestnut (Castanea dentata) leaf bioassay. Transgenic Research 22, Issue 5 (2013), Page 973-982
  • Newhouse, AE, JE Spitzer, CA Maynard, WA Powell. 2014. Leaf Inoculation Assay as a Rapid Predictor of Chestnut Blight Susceptibility. Plant Disease 98:4-9
  • Baier, K.M., C.A. Maynard, and W.A. Powell. 2012. Early flowering in Chestnut species induced under high intensity, high dose light in growth chambers. Journal of The American Chestnut Foundation 26:8-10
  • D'Amico, T. Horton, C. Maynard, and W. Powell. 2011. Assessing ectomycorrhizal associations and transgene expression in transgenic Castanea dentata. (Extended abstract for the IUFRO meeting in 2011) BioMed Central (BMC) Proceedings 2011, 5(Suppl 7):O54
  • Dr. Powell's publications
  • Dr. Maynard's publications

The Chestnut Project in the News

· Action Institute Blog: A GMO Thanksgiving

(The Action Institute blog featured the American Chestnut Project among other Thanksgiving-related genetic modification research projects. 11/25/14) READ MORE

· Daily Orange: Professors use crowdfunding to help restore American chestnut trees

("After 25 years of work, two SUNY-ESF professors have developed a way to restore the American chestnut tree back to its former glory and are receiving funding from the community to help the cause." 11/17/14) READ MORE

· Chestnut Project on CBC Quirks & Quarks

(CBC's Quirks & Quarks radio show interviewed Dr. Powell about the American Chestnut Project. 11/20/14) READ MORE

· ESF American Chestnut Project in Washington Post

(Washington Post: Unearthed article series covered the Chestnut Project and the benefits of returning the American chestnut to eastern forests. 11/20/14) READ MORE

· WRVO: SUNY-ESF finds success with fungus resistant American chestnut trees

(WRVO hosted an interview with Dr. Powell on the American Chestnut Project. 11/17/14) READ MORE

· American Chestnut Project in Genetic Literacy Project

("Scientists are planning the return of an American icon in a genetically modified form." 11/14/14) READ MORE

· Ars Technica: GMO trees could rescue American chestnut from invasive fungus

(The online science magazine Ars Technica shared an in-depth story on the success of the American Chestnut Project and the science behind the trees. 11/12/14) READ MORE

· ScienceDaily: Blight-resistant american chestnut trees take root

(ESF scientists are growing the first American chestnut trees that can withstand the blight that virtually eliminated the tree from the eastern United States. 11/6/14) READ MORE

· EcoRazzi: Threatened American Chestnut May be Saved by Genetic Engineering

("25 years after beginning their research, two professors at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry have used genetic engineering to create a new strain of the threatened American chestnut tree." 11/6/14) READ MORE

· LiveScience: Iconic US Tree May Be Saved by Genetic Engineering

(ESF researchers hope to produce thousands of the genetically modified chestnut trees to restore the plant to North America. 11/7/14) READ MORE

· Science Codex: Blight-resistant American chestnut trees take root at SUNY-ESF

("Continuing research by ESF and collaborators from other institutions indicates that the transgenic trees do not affect the composition of leaf litter, the feeding habits of insects or the growth of ecologically important fungi." 11/6/14) READ MORE

· Genetic Literacy covers Chestnut Project crowdfunder

("Save blight stricken American Chestnut? Crowd funding launches for GMO rescue" 11/7/14) READ MORE

· Blight-Resistant American Chestnut Trees Take Root at ESF

· American Chestnut Project in Get to Know GMOs Month

(The American Chestnut Research & Restoration Project was mentioned in an article as part of BIOtechNOW's month-long GMO feature. 10/22/14) READ MORE

· WSYR: SUNY ESF scientists bringing back the American Chestnut tree

After nearly a quarter century of research, a team from SUNY ESF is on the cusp of a major breakthrough. 10/11/13 READ MORE

· WAMC Northeast Public Radio: David Chanatry: The American Chestnut Tree

The American Chestnut tree was once known as the king of the eastern forest. 10/03/13 READ MORE

· The Motley Fool: How Genetic Engineering Can Save the Iconic American Chestnut Tree

An estimated 3 billion to 6 billion American chestnut trees once covered forests spreading from southern Mississippi to central Maine. 03/16/14 READ MORE

· The Daily Star: Chestnuts are making a comeback

Recently, The American Chestnut Foundation has been working with SUNY-College of Environmental Science and Forestry to produce a blight-resistant chestnut tree. 03/28/14 READ MORE

· National Institute of Food and Agriculture: NIFA program helps re-establish the American chestnut tree in the United States

An American icon is being ravaged, and scientists are rushing to its rescue. 05/05/14 READ MORE

· BIOtechNOW: Remember the American Chestnut Tree on Arbor Day

The American Chestnut blight is recent example of how genetic engineering has served as a vital agricultural technology. 04/25/14 READ MORE

· Forest Guild: American Chestnut: A Test Case for Genetic Engineering?

The American chestnut may be the most compelling case thus far for the use of genetic engineering. 4/14 READ MORE

· New Scientist: American chestnut set for genetically modified revival

Genetically modified trees, which are resistant to a deadly fungus that has decimated the species, have produced the first resistant chestnuts. 05/30/14 READ MORE

· Popular Science: GMOs-Beyond Pesticides

There are uses for GMO tech beyond pesticides and herbicides, that could have benefits for consumers, the environment, and human health. 07/28/14 READ MORE

· The Atlantic: Genetically Engineering an Icon: Can Biotech Bring the Chestnut Back to America's Forests?

In the 20th century, a blight killed off four billion of these towering trees. Now, new research shows that a gene, taken from wheat, provides resistance. 05/31/13 READ MORE

· The Economist: Into the wildwood

A GM species may soon be liberated deliberately. 05/04/13 READ MORE

· New York Times: Like-Minded Rivals Race to Bring Back the Chestnut Tree

Capping decades of research, two groups of plant breeders and geneticists appear to have arrived independently within reach of the same arboreal holy grail: creating an American chestnut tree that can, at long last, withstand the devastating fungus blight that wiped the trees out by the billions in the first half of the 20th century. 07/14/13 READ MORE

· New York Times: Bringing Back the American Chestnut Tree

Capping decades of research, two groups of plant breeders and geneticists appear to be within reach of creating an American chestnut tree that can withstand the devastating blight that wiped the trees out by the billions in the first half of the 20th century. 07/14/13 READ MORE

· The Wall Street Journal: Hopes for Chestnut Revival Growing

Engineered Versions of the Once-Common Species, Long Ago Wiped Out by a Fungus, Take Root. 08/19/12 READ MORE

· Nature: Plant science: The chestnut resurrection

Once king of eastern forests, the American chestnut was wiped out by blight. Now it is poised to rise again. 10/03/12 READ MORE

· National Geographic: Resurrecting A Forest

For the cover story in the April 2013 issue of National Geographic, I explore an idea that sounds like pure science fiction: bringing extinct species back to life. 03/11/13 READ MORE

· Reason.com: Science, Not Mysticism, Will Save the American Chestnut Tree

In the early 20th century, chestnut blight fungus introduced from overseas devastated American chestnuts-the then-dominant trees in eastern forests stretching from Maine to Mississippi. 12/27/13 READ MORE

· TWC News: Growing trees in test tubes

You know, it's hard to believe this American elm started out its life in a test tube. 07/07/08 READ MORE

· TWC News: Chestnut tree blight

One hundred years ago, an average American Chestnut tree would've grown to 100 feet tall but it's being killed by cankers that encircle the tree and kill it. 05/21/12 READ MORE

· TWC News: SUNY ESF plants trees for Arbor Day

The SUNY-ESF campus is getting a little greener. Students and faculty planted some newly developed chestnut trees near the Gateway Center as part of an Arbor Day celebration on Friday. 04/26/13 READ MORE

· TWC News: Bicyclists raise money and awareness for tree research

The International Stihl Tour des Trees was at SUNY-ESF to celebrate the university's American Chestnut Program. 08/22/13 READ MORE

· Bridge Street Live: SUNY ESF scientists bringing back the American Chestnut tree

After nearly a quarter century of research, a team from SUNY ESF is on the cusp of a major breakthrough. 10/11/13 READ MORE

· Eagle News Online: Skaneateles high school students get hands on experience in SUNY ESF lab

While some teenagers were life guarding, mowing lawns or waiting tables this summer, five Skaneateles High School students were conducting research that may someday help to save certain species of trees from extinction. 10/02/13 READ MORE

· The Post Standard, Syracuse.com: William A. Powell, SUNY ESF professor, named Forest Biotechnologist of the Year

William A. Powell, a professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) and director of the Council on Biotechnology in Forestry there, has been named 2013 Forest Biotechnologist of the Year by the Institute of Forest Biotechnology. 12/10/13 READ MORE

· Biology Fortified: What do you want to know about restoring the American Chestnut?

"Earlier this year during my presentation at the GMO Forum in Washington D.C., I mentioned a project that raised some eyebrows." 10/8/13 READ MORE

· Going Green: the American chestnut

This is one of two plots of the largest planting of transgenic American chestnut, a big step forward toward the reintroduction of this species. VIDEO. 7/13/09 READ MORE

· ESF American Chestnut Project Supports Relay for Life

· American Chestnuts: 300 Learn about ‘Return of the King’

· National Grid Supports Energy Work as Cyclists Cheer ESF Chestnut Research

· American Chestnut; Biotechnology

("SUNY-ESF duo celebrate the success of blight-resistant trees"; 12/15/12 READ MORE

· ESF Returns American Chestnut to New York City

· American Chestnut, Biotechnology

Additional coverage on ESF researchers and resistant genes/trees. ("Researchers replanting resistant chestnut trees"; 10/17/11) READ MORE

· American Chestnut, Biotechnology

Drs. Donald Leopold, William Powell and Charles Maynard will speak at the 28th Annual American Chestnut Foundation Meeting this weekend. ("Good Morning, Buffalo: Back before the emerald ash borer"; 10/21/11) READ MORE

· American Chestnut, Biotechnology

SUNY-ESF's chestnut biotechnology program and transgenic trees are mentioned in story. ("Mission to restore American chestnut gains momentum";10/19/11) READ MORE

· American Chestnut, Biotechnology

ESF American chestnut genetic research mentioned in story. ("Maine Gardener: Efforts to bring back the great American chestnut raise hopes"; 7/3/11) READ MORE

· American Chestnut, Biotechnology

ESF expert Dr. Charles Maynard in photo and story: students to study trees containing gene thought resistant to fungus that causes American chestnut blight.. ("Chestnut Project Grows": 6/30/11) READ MORE

· Biotechnology, American Chestnut

ESF mentioned in story about biotechnology and the American Chestnut Tree. ("Innovative Greening of America"; 5/19/11) READ MORE

· Biotechnology, Dutch Elm Disease, American Chestnut Blight

SUNY-ESF's biotechnology work with the American Elm and American Chestnut is mentioned in story. ("Oxford to get biotech trees'; 12/10/10) READ MORE


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