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Chestnut trees to spread across landscape again, says Purdue scientist

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Jacobs said the disease first appeared in 1904, and within 40 years, it had spread to every area of the tree's range.

"Nearly every tree in the range was killed," Jacobs said. "Ninety-nine point nine percent were killed in that 40-year period."

The fungus persists to this day, killing chestnut trees that sprout throughout the former range. A blight-resistance breeding program, however, offers promise to re-establish the tree throughout the eastern United States, Jacobs said.

Isolated mature trees are occasionally found today in parts of the tree's native range, and the American Chestnut Foundation's state chapters use these trees as a resource in the breeding program, Jacobs said.

"It's important to the program that we have trees from multiple areas," he said. "The state chapters allow us to develop regional breeding programs to produce seed specific to the climate and other variables in different areas."

Jacobs and his colleagues at the Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center are developing blight-resistant hybrids for eventual planting throughout Indiana. He has established a large test stand of hybrid trees at Purdue's Horticulture Park, and as part of his continuing work to develop a blight-resistant line, he plans to inoculate these trees with the fungus to determine their degree of resistance. "By 2006, we expect to have blight-resistant chestnut seeds to release on a limited basis," Jacobs said. "In another 10 to 12 years, we'll see significant quantities of seeds planted throughout the landscape."

The breeding program involves many generations of crosses between American chestnuts and the blight-resistant Asian chestnut, Jacobs said. By crossing hybrids, the breeding program will produce trees that are genetically 94 percent American chestnut and 6 percent Asian chestnut.

Trees with this genetic makeup exhibit the resis
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Contact: Jennifer Cutraro
jcutraro@purdue.edu
765-496-2050
Purdue University
31-Mar-2004


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