2009 Annual Members Meeting of the Carolinas Chapter-TACF

August 15, 2009

Dr. Patricia Layton of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Clemson University hosted the Carolinas Chapter meeting. She, her assistants, and family also arranged for refreshments during the meeting and for lunch, which included hamburgers and veggie burgers which were grilled by her husband at the Layton’s home in Clemson. The photo album below provides a synopsis of presentations given at the meeting, business conducted after lunch, and a tour of Joe James’s farm, Chestnut Return, which is located near Seneca, SC, where he conducts research on resistance of hybrid chestnuts to Phytopthora cinnamomi, or root rot disease. The day’s activities concluded with a meeting of the Board of Directors at Joe James’s home.

Chapter President Steve Barilovits III kicked off the meeting by welcoming the other 30 guests attending the meeting and then introduced speakers who presented on topics discussed below.

Dr. Paul Sisco gave two presentations. First was a discussion of breeding efforts involving chapter orchards. Paul noted a Chapter milestone in that during the summer of 2009, the first pollinations that will produce BC3-F2 nuts occured. Thus, trees that are the third back-cross of American-Chinese trees to pure American chestnut trees (94% American and 6% Chinese) were inter-cross pollinated to produce nuts that strengthen the Chinese (F2) blight resistance characteristics and the American (BC3) tall growing, timber tree characteristics. A second presentation by Dr. Sisco discussed research work being done by Dr. Robert Leffel to produce BC1 nuts by surrounding pollen-sterile F1 female Chinese/American trees with pollen-fertile pure American chestnut trees. Paul also discussed the research work of Dr. Shawn Mehlenbacher at Oregon State University involving the breeding of hazelnut trees (distant cousins of the American chestnut) with resistance to Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB), which is related to chestnut blight. Dr. Mehlenbacher hopes to clone one of the single, dominant genes for EFB resistance by the end of 2009. His efforts might help in the cloning of one of the chestnut blight resistance genes, if they prove to be related.

Scott Merkle, Professor at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, The University of Georgia, spoke about his work to propagate American chestnut trees using somatic embryogenesis. Scott extracts embryos from chestnut burrs at a particularly early stage and is able to culture a large number of somatic seedlings. From the culture stage to the somatic seedling stage takes six months of extensive work to ensure survival of the seedlings. It is hoped that the selection on the suspension cultures will be possible, so that all seedlings produced will be highly resistant to the chestnut blight.

Dr. Joe James discussed his work screening chestnut seedlings for resistance to Phytopthora cinnamomi, or root rot disease. Steve Jeffers, a plant pathologist at Clemson University, who was present at the meeting, assists Joe with his research work. Joe and Steve have tested over 4,200 seedlings. The mortality rate is very high. Surviving seedlings are planted at joe’s farm, Chestnut Return, near Seneca, SC where they will be inoculated with chestnut blight to determine which trees displaying resistance to root rot also display resistance to chestnut blight.

Megan Stanton, data analyzer and web site designer for the National Science Foundation’s Fagaceae Genomics Project, talked about the work participants in the NSF Project are doing to develop genetic tools to study both the chestnut tree and genes for blight and Phytopthora resistance. She said that it is hoped that these tools will allow marker-assisted selection for both diseases and will reveal resistance and form characteristics at the seedling stage.

During the business portion of the meeting, six Board of Director positions were filled by election of four current Board Members-Steve Barilovits III, Lee Gragg, Joe James, and Don Surrette-and two new members to the Board-Russell Regnery and Judy Sutton. Board Members Judy Coker and Steve Motsinger retired from the Board, creating vacancies filled by the two new members. Steve Barilovits III (to the left in the picture), whose term as Chapter President expired at the conclusion of the meeting, was recognized by Doug Gillis, in-coming President, for his service to the Chapter and The American Chestnut Foundation.

The Certificate of Appreciation which Doug Gillis presented to Steve was prepared by Paul Sisco and used photos commemorating important aspects of Steve’s work with the Carolinas Chapter and The American Chestnut Foundation. One photo is of Steve’s son, Steve IV, whose interest in the American chestnut tree at the early age of 10 enticed Steve to join TACF with his son. Both became and continue to be actively involved with the American Chestnut Foundation. Another photo recognizes Steve’s valiant efforts to collect pollen from low level elevation American chestnut trees and use it to pollinate hybrid chestnut trees to increase the genetic diversity of the trees being produced by the American Chestnut Foundation. Another photo acknowledges Steve’s experiments using chemical treatments to counteract the effect of Phytopthora on chestnut seedlings. (Steve has an article published in the Spring/Summer 2009 Journal of The American Chestnut Foundation discussing the first year results of his work to manage Phytopthora, root rot in American chestnut seedlings.) Don Surrette built the frame for the certificate using reclaimed American chestnut wood.

A tour at Joe James’s farm, Chestnut Return, near Seneca, SC, was of great interest to attendees. His facilities for growing chestnut seedlings in a dense grouping in tubs and then inoculating the seedlings with Phytopthora was discussed. Families of survivor trees that had been transplanted to pots were viewed and discussed.  The group toured trees transplanted in a nearby field that display resistance to Phytopthora.

The day’s activities concluded with a Board Meeting at which new officers for 2009-2011 were elected. Doug Gillis was elected President and Paul Sisco, Vice President. Don Surrette was chosen to continue as Treasurer. Carol Namkoong was elected to continue serving as Secretary.