ESF faculty are working to restore lost and damaged species across the globe. This work focuses on the restoration of rare, threatened, endangered, and keystone species, as well as the management of invasive species for restoration. RSC faculty research ranges from biotechnology and species restoration at the genetic level to restoring landscapes for specific species habitat.
Photo: Dr. James Gibbs works on the conservation of giant Galapagos tortoises and restoration of their ecosystem services, in collaboration with the Galapagos Conservancy.
Faculty Research Projects
The American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project
Professor Bill Powell and his research team are working to restore the iconic and valuable cultural symbol to the forest ecosystems of the eastern United States.
Of the estimated four billion American chestnut trees that once grew from Maine to Georgia, only a remnant survive today. The species was nearly wiped out by chestnut blight, accidently introduced into the United States over a century ago as people began to import Asian species of chestnut.
After nearly 30 years of research, the ESF team has developed new strains of American chestnut that can withstand the invasive blight through genetic engineering.
The "Darling" blight-tolerant American chestnut trees contain a gene from wheat to neutralize the effect of the blight, but otherwise are genetically over 99.999 percent identical to wild-type American chestnuts. These transgenic trees are currently undergoing a rigorous evaluation process and regulatory review before they can be used for widespread restoration.
The next step is getting the transgenic trees out into the forests, where they can breed with wild-type chestnuts to help them gain better resistance to the disease. To kick start the restoration process, ESF is working to establish production orchards for public distribution, produce transgenic trees for use in larger-scale forest restoration; establish educational plantings at botanical gardens, arboretums and other public venues and develop ecosystem and agricultural restoration protocols.
This project is unique because it is the first to seek approval of a transgenic plant to help save a species and restore a forest's ecology. The concepts and techniques that are being 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.