The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) has announced a grant of $3.2 million over three years from the Templeton World Charity Foundation in support of efforts to restore the endangered American chestnut.
The funding will support research and efforts to restore the economically and culturally significant tree species, billions of which were killed by a blight in the early twentieth century. ESF has genetically engineered a new strain of chestnut that includes a single gene from wheat, enabling the tree to detoxify the oxalic acid produced by the invasive fungus that causes the blight. According to the school, this is the first time scientists have sought approval for genetic engineering to restore a native tree species. Earlier this year, the research team submitted to federal agencies a petition that lays out the case for public distribution of the genetically engineered strain.
Among other things, the grant will support regulatory review; the establishment of orchards populated by the new strain; the production of transgenic trees for use in large-scale forest restoration; the creation of small educational plantings at public venues; the planting of a demonstration/research forest dedicated to public education and outreach; the development of ecosystem and agricultural restoration protocols; and public distribution of individual trees.
"The Templeton support will allow us to 'kick-start' the restoration of the magnificent American chestnut trees and help improve the health of the forest from which they were lost," said William Powell, head of the ESF American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project.
"This is truly a transformational gift," said Dana Piwinski, senior director of major gifts in the ESF office of development. "It means that at this critical stage, with the project undergoing federal review, the researchers know they have the support they need to continue work with a full staff."