This project was initiated some years back following the discovery of the phenomenon of hypovirulence, meaning reduced virulence of the blight-causing fungus due to virus infection of the fungus, and the level of blight control that it brought to areas of the world once decimated by the disease. This discovery rekindled interest in chestnut blight, a disease that had unparalleled ecological and economic impact to eastern North American forests during the early part of the 20th century. Understanding the biology of hypovirulence and how to exploit it successfully, has been complex, and biological control artificially using hypovirus-infected strains has not been widely successful in the U.S. Over the years since this project was initiated, the collaborating scientific group has expanded and the methods used for investigation have changed dramatically. The current project has three overall objectives: First, to develop and evaluate blight resistant chestnut trees for food and fiber through traditional and molecular techniques that incorporate knowledge of the chestnut genome, which is now being sequenced. Second, to evaluate biological approaches for controlling chestnut blight from the ecological to the molecular level by utilizing knowledge of the fungal and hypovirus genomes to investigate the mechanisms that regulate virulence and hypovirulence in C. parasitica. And third, to investigate chestnut reestablishment in orchard and forest settings with special consideration of the current and historical knowledge of the species and its interaction with other pests and pathogens. Participation of New Jersey is currently limited almost entirely to the second objective, but our research has implications for the other two objectives and we may get more involved in these objectives over time.The overall impact of this project will be to further the progress being made toward the restoration of chestnut as a tree in North American forests and as a nut in the American marketplace. Some specific impacts include: establishment of breeding orchards for generating larger number of backcross generations for forest and orchard testing of pest resistance and regional adaptability; evaluation of genomic data of Castanea to identify genes that confer desirable traits and enable rapid screening for those traits; development of in vitro mass propagation systems for Castanea spp. so that elite genotypes from breeding programs and genotypes engineered with anti-fungal genes can be clonally propagated for reforestation; evaluation of the chestnut blight fungus genome to further our understanding of the genetic basis for pathogenesis and hypovirus regulation; development and deployment of the first genetically engineered virus for enhanced biocontrol of a plant pathogen; utilization of biological control agents to reduce the impact of chestnut blight and other pests and pathogens. In the longer-term, the project will lead to the return of an important timber species, major mast species for wildlife, a new cellulosic biomass energy crop, a new commercial nut crop; and, a new 'green' alternative to pressure-treated lumber for durable wood and outdoor uses.
|Effective start/end date||10/1/08 → 9/30/13|
- National Institute of Food and Agriculture (National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA))