You are here: Home / Research Topics / Research Highlights / Individual Highlight

Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

The Forest Health Initiative

Photo of Snapshot : The Forest Health Initiative is a new government-university-industry partnership dedicated to developing workable solutions for improving forest health through the responsible development and application of biotechnology. As a test case, Forest Service researchers are collaborating with several university labs on developing blight resistant American chestnut seedlings.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Nelson, C. Dana 
Research Location : Bent Creek Experimental Forest, Asheville, NC Harrison Experimental Forest, Saucier, MS
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2011
Highlight ID : 424


The Forest Health Initiative is a new concept for addressing emerging forest diseases and pests with genetics, and in particular biotechnology. The idea is to develop a focused, integrated science strategy to identify resistance genes to specific tree diseases and transfer them into the susceptible tree species while at the same time developing the social, environmental and regulatory side of the equation.

We are using American chestnut, which was extirpated in its native range by chestnut blight, as a test case. This is hardly an emerging problem, but one that can still benefit from modern biotechnology and genomic approaches. To move towards a blight-resistant American chestnut, the Chinese chestnut genome is being mapped and sequenced in an effort to find resistance genes. Once identified these genes are cloned and transformed into American chestnut cell cultures that are later induced into seedlings. During these early stages the transformed materials are evaluated for resistance using a series of tests .That range from molecular assays to field tests using artificial inoculations of the blight fungus.

The American chestnut project is now entering its third year with over 40 candidate genes identified and 20 of these transformed into American chestnut. Early disease resistance tests will be ongoing this year. In addition the social, environmental and regulatory groups are progressing on the social science front by engaging conservation constituents and developing a thorough understanding of the issues around deploying genetically modified (GM) forest trees.

Additional Resources

Forest Health Initiative Organization(web site)

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • NRS, NE Area, Northern Region, Southern Region and Area, Washington Office, Scott Merkle's lab at the University of Georgia Bill Powell's lab at the State University of New York-Syracuse John Carlson' lab at Penn State University Albert Abbott's lab at Clemson University Fred Hebard with The American Chestnut Foundation