Life Sciences Seminar
Using Genetic Engineering to Rescue Threatened Native Trees
Dr. Andrew Newhouse
Director of the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project
State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Department of Environmental Biology
In contrast to many current applications of biotechnology, the purpose of the American Chestnut Research & Restoration Project is to produce trees that are well-adapted to thrive not just in confined fields or orchards, but throughout their natural range. Our primary focus is on disease tolerance, and we have produced a line of trees with a gene from wheat that allows them to tolerate the fungal blight that functionally extirpated these trees from our landscape. However, it is also critically important that restoration trees have robust genetic diversity and resilience, so they remain well adapted to their diverse natural habitat and to future threats. Chestnut restoration offers a unique case study because many restoration or intervention options have been attempted: doing nothing, planting non-native chestnut species, planting hybrids, mutagenesis (exposing seeds to high levels of radiation to induce random mutations), backcross breeding, and now genetic engineering. All of these techniques can be appropriate and have been successful for other species, but for the American chestnut, genetic engineering offers a unique opportunity to enhance blight tolerance for restoration while minimizing other changes to the genome.
Dr. Andrew Newhouse has been working on projects that overlap the fields of conservation biology and molecular biology since 2003. Starting in 2007 he has worked with the American Chestnut Research & Restoration Project, at the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science & Forestry. This project has developed transgenic American chestnut trees that tolerate chestnut blight, a disease that nearly extirpated mature trees from their native range in the eastern USA. Andrew’s contributions to this project have ranged from molecular analyses to ecological comparisons, and his current focus is on the federal regulatory review process that is required before transgenic trees can be distributed or used for restoration.
Undergraduates, Graduates, Experts.
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When and Where
Open to the Public