Genome sequencing could save American chestnuts

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is generating and annotating a reference genome for the American chestnut tree in a project with The American Chestnut Foundation that aims to restore the once dominant tree to forests in the Eastern United States. We are all familiar with the opening lines of The Christmas Song: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire …” But this collaborative project could mean that those chestnuts might once again come from an American chestnut tree.

Around 1900, the American chestnut was wiped out by an invasive fungal pathogen that killed more than three billion trees. Researchers at HudsonAlpha will be working with samples from The American Chestnut Foundation’s breeding program to identify regions in the tree’s genome that protect the tree from the fungus, allowing those trees to survive the blight. The team will also use the reference to survey remaining American chestnut tree populations in an effort to target regions for conservation. Finally, the group hopes to use the genome sequencing to help understand the molecular interactions between the American chestnut and the infecting fungal pathogen.

Jeremy Schmutz, a co-director of the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center, leads the efforts at the Institute to sequence this once economically-important hardwood tree. The research is supported by a grant from the Colcom Foundation.

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The American Chestnut Foundation is a non-profit conservation organization headquartered in Asheville, NC, with 3 regional offices located in Charlottesville, VA, So. Burlington, VT, and State College, PA. The organization’s research farm in Meadowview, VA has more than 50,000 trees planted in various stages of development. For more information about The American Chestnut Foundation, please visit: