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Kentucky Color: The Adair Tree

By Billy Joe Fudge

During the 1990s, the old American chestnut tree growing on Charles England's farm in the Bull Run watershed of Adair County was introduced to the world, because of its very rare genetic resistance to the blight that killed billions of American chestnut trees across our eastern hardwood forest in the early 20th Century.

Since that time, this tree has been pollinated from trees in nearly a half dozen states and from several other trees in Kentucky, in an effort to tap into its unique blight resistance. Offspring of the tree on Charles England's farm are now growing in research and genetic repositories across the Eastern United States.

Nowadays, its fame has spread far and wide and it has become known as The Adair Tree! Just as "The" has brought the eyes of the American public to bear upon Ohio State University, it is now bringing the eyes of the scientific community and the world to bear upon Adair County, Kentucky.

Last late winter, Mr. Ken Darnell, President of the Kentucky Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation https://acf.org/ky/ contacted me with an amazing request.


According to him, genetic research had progressed to such a point of precision and affordability that the ACF was ready to delve into the genetics of The Adair Tree in an attempt to understand what specific gene or genes are allowing it to survive the attack of the blight.

Darnell asked me to collect scion material (3 or 4 inch long tips of twigs) that would be grafted onto the rootstock of other plants. They were to be sent to Sara Fitzsimmons at Penn State University. Broadly speaking, Sara is a scientist working in the field of genetics. She is Director of Restoration, North Central Regional Science Coordinator, and Regional Science Coordinator Supervisor for the American Chestnut Foundation.

So, Ricky Parnell, with the Kentucky Division of Forestry, along with Jackie Goodin, with KDF, Kenny Pyles, who is a KDF retiree, and I collected over 20 scions which I packed in ice and overnighted to Sara. Sara now reports that 6 of 10 of The Adair Tree scions are growing in their greenhouse. She has shipped some of The Adair Tree scions to the Meadowview Research Farm in Meadowview Virginia and to another grafter in Florida.

I am not a scientist, so I asked Sara to explain the situation and the process to me and I will share that information with you.

Sara Fitzsimmons said,
"This season, TACF and affiliated scientists are working to clone and preserve pollen from a handful of wild American chestnut trees which have been observed to contain genetic resistance to the chestnut blight fungus. Out of an estimated 4 billion American chestnut trees which once populated the Appalachian Mountains in the late 1800s, only 24 trees have been identified to be what scientists call 'Large, Surviving American chestnuts' or LSAs. The 'S' for surviving doesn't just mean that they are alive, but that they are 'surviving with chestnut blight infection'. There are a few thousand 'large American chestnuts', but they tend to be 'Lucky' instead of 'Surviving'. Once those Large Lucky American chestnut trees get hit with the blight, they tend to succumb in as little as 1-5 years whereas the Large Surviving American chestnuts are documented to have survived multiple decades with chestnut blight infection.

Some of the better known LSA trees are the Amherst tree in VA, the Ort tree in PA, and the Adair County tree in Kentucky. To clone these trees, grafters at multiple locations are using scion wood collected from the LSA trees and then grafting them onto some manner of rootstock. This grafting process creates an exact genetic replica. The clones can then be used in various types of experiments.

The primary experiment TACF is aiming to instigate with these LSAs is something called 'RNASeq'. There are several steps to that experiment. First, the DNA and RNA from all the grafted trees (the clones) will be fully sequenced. Then, the clones will be infected with the chestnut blight fungus and their RNA will be isolated and fully sequenced right after the infection with blight. Finally, the RNA will be fully sequenced again at a few days following infection. This sequence of RNA Sequencing, hence the name 'RNA Seq', will be key to better understanding the underlying genetic mechanisms of disease resistance in these LSAs.

The grafting process is taking place in 2022. Once the grafts are well-established, the RNA Seq will take place in 2023 or 2024.

In addition to the cloning and RNA Seq experiment, pollen from these LSAs will be collect to use both this season and additional pollen will be frozen for long-term storage and use. Using that pollen, the LSAs can be bred together.

The resulting seeds and seedlings can then be used in additional experiments to better understand the underlying mechanisms of blight-resistance in these unique trees. That breeding and the subsequent experiments will take place across the next 5-10 years."
Sara says she has visited the Amherst tree in Virginia and the Ort tree in Pennsylvania and is planning a trip to see The Adair Tree and fulfill a long time goal of visiting another point of interest in Kentucky, Mammoth Cave!


This story was posted on 2022-05-28 09:21:50
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Kentucky Color: The Adair Tree



2022-05-28 - Adair Co., KY - Photo by Billy Joe Fudge.
This old American chestnut tree growing on Charles England's farm in the Bull Run watershed of Adair County gained fame in the 1990s because of its very rare genetic resistance to the blight that killed billions of American chestnut trees across our eastern hardwood forest in the early 20th Century.

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Sara Fitzsimmons of Penn State University



2022-05-28 - Penn State - Photo courtesy Billy Joe Fudge.
Sara Fitzsimmons at Penn State University is heading a multi-year project to clone and RNA Sequence grafts from The Adair Tree and other long term surviving Wild American Chestnut trees, to better understand the underlying mechanisms of blight-resistance in these unique trees.

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Adair Tree scions are now part of multi-year research project



2022-05-28 - Penn State University - Photo courtesy Sara Fitzsimmons.
Ricky Parnell, Jackie Goodin, Kenny Pyles, and Billy Joe Fudge collected scions from The Adair Tree to overnight to Penn State University. 6 of 10 of The Adair Tree scions are growing in the University greenhouse, part of a multi-year effort to run RNA Sequencing to understand how this special tree has survived the blight that killed nearly all the American Chestnut trees.

Read More... | Comments? | Click here to share, print, or bookmark this photo.



 





























 
 
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