Forest Health Initiative

Community action plan and intervention for maintaining american forests

Forsests are not only essential for the environment, but play a huge part in maintaining healthy communities.

The initiative is building on the extensive research already accomplished on the American chestnut by the American Chestnut Foundation and others as a model system for how biotechnology can potentially protect trees, and restore species devastated by disease. The near-term goal is to safely and effectively develop an American chestnut that is resistant to the chestnut blight and root rot, and which can be safely restored to our forests. While working to help restore the American chestnut as the test tree, the program will discover new approaches to enhance the health and vitality of other trees, forests, and forest ecosystem

Using the tools of biotechnology to aid in restoring species attacked by disease will test the application of current regulatory policy where flowering and propagation of the tree is desired. A genetically modified American chestnut provides a “test case” across all three regulatory agencies, APHIS, EPA and FDA, and offers the application of biotechnology for societal benefit.

Forest Health Initiative Intervention PDF

Society needs healthier forests and the ecosystem services they provide. Biotechnology is a powerful tool that under appropriate conditions, may be applied to forestry. Developing biotech trees to combat invasive threats is critical to improve the future of our forests and the benefits society derives from them.

The goal for the genome resources and tools project is to provide a high-quality reference sequence for the Castanea mollissima (Chinese Chestnut) genome, with which to identify genes for resistance to Cryphonectria parasitica. In addition, the broad impact of this project will be to demonstrate the power of genomics to address the increasing forest health and ecosystem restoration issues that we face now and in the future.The genome resources and tools project builds upon the results of the NSF-sponsored Genomic Tool Development for the Fagaceae project ( and brings together experts and cutting-edge facilities in genomics and bioinformatics from Penn State University and the Clemson University Genomics Institute. Our approach to develop a high quality reference genome sequence for Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima) cv Vanuxem is through deep "next generation" DNA sequencing technologies, following a two year time line. The Vanuxem cultivar was chosen for the reference genome due to its key role in The American Chestnut Foundation’s breeding program ( and the NSF Fagaceae Tools project. The reference genome will be assembled de novo from 454 sequence data, corrected and extended with Illumina sequence data, and pseudo-chromosomes built by integration of the physical and genetic maps for chestnut. Bioinformatic analyses will then target genome regions associated with blight resistance. Resistance genes will be identified by transcript mapping and/or by gene-finding algorithms. To facilitate the discovery of resistance genes, additional genomes will be produced by “resequencing” including the Mahogany variety of Chinese chestnut, a blight-sensitive American chestnut and blight-resistant hybrids. The genes discovered will be provided to the FHI transformation project for functional studies. SNPs spanning the genome will also be discovered and put into use by the FHI genetic technologies group to accelerate breeding

FHI Genomics Report Policy Plan