Working with graphic artists, the IFB has developed an infographic and a forest education tool that communicate the importance of forests while providing practical ways to help improve forest health and productivity.
The first is a static graphic that scrolls vertically on a webpage or mobile device. It is available in a high-resolution format for printing hard copies, or even making into an educational banner.
The second is an interactive application that was developed specifically for touch screen devices like iPads, Windows Surface, and Android tablets that are making their way into K12 classrooms everywhere. Rest assured though, it works equally well on regular computers. This tool encourages people to interact with the graphic by moving the slider to change the environment, click buttons to activate information pop-ups, investigate links to useful sites, and it has a simple one question survey at the bottom of the page. The survey is intended to gather quick feedback from users. This interactive application will be particularly powerful to help reach the general public, and learn a little about the publics opinion of using technology to help forests thrive.
Cary, N.C. Dr. William A. Powell, a professor and director of the Council on Biotechnology in Forestry at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse, N.Y., has been named 2013 Forest Biotechnologist of the Year by the Institute of Forest Biosciences (IFB).
His peers within the Forest Biosciences Partnership, an international group of forestry and biotechnology professionals, selected Powell as the fifth scientist to win this award, which recognizes the forest biotechnologist who best exemplifies responsible uses of forest biotechnology and actively promotes science, dialogue and stewardship through his or her work.
According to his peers, Powell was nominated because of his pioneering work, leadership and outreach in the use of biotechnology to restore one of the most iconic forest trees, the American chestnut.
Lori Knowles, chair of the board at IFB, said, Bill’s willingness to communicate about his work, engage with the public, and collaborate with colleagues from other disciplines is both commendable and visionary. Bill embodies the principles of science, dialogue and stewardship on which the IFB is built, and thus he is an ideal recipient of this year’s Forest Biotechnologist of the Year award.
Powell has worked on this topic during and since his Ph.D. research, contributing a great deal of basic science as well as technology development. The basic science has included insights into mechanisms of pathogenesis, including studying the roles of virus-associates of the chestnut fungus, designing anti-microbial peptides and identifying pathogen resistance-enhancing genes. Technology advances have included helping development of new transformation methods, rapid screening approaches for assessing resistance, and means to accelerate flowering to advance research and breeding. In addition to American chestnut, Powell has advanced research on American elm and hybrid poplar. His work has been widely cited, with more than 200 citations from 2007 to 2011. Earlier this year, Powell presented at the National Geographic sponsored TEDxDeextinction conference.
Steve Strauss, a professor with the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, said, “Bill’s program has made several major advances in technology to produce and accelerate the development of blight-resistant chestnut. He also has worked hard to inform the public about his work and its rationale. He exemplifies what this award is intended to recognize.”
As director of the Council for Forest Biosciences at ESF, Powell uses this platform to actively promote outreach and transparency. He has created field days, engaged hundreds of students from high school to graduate levels in fieldwork or through undergraduate teaching, planted transgenic trees in public demonstration plots, such as the New York Botanical Garden, and takes steps to involve civic leaders.
Like all the nominees, Bill has accomplished a lot over his career. I think Bills work with the Forest Health Initiative in finding native genes resistant to the chestnut blight, and his ability to make those complex techniques easy to understand for the general public are what set him apart this year said Adam Costanza, president of the Institute of Forest Biosciences.
Powell earned his doctorate in biology from Utah State University and his bachelors degree in biology from Salisbury State University of Maryland. During his tenure at ESF, he has published 40 peer-reviewed articles and seven book chapters.
A social funding campaign for TreeTaggr was launched March 1, 2013. Visit TreeTaggr.org/go to see the campaign, video, and how you can help.
TreeTaggr The Mobile Forest Health Tool
TreeTaggr turns your smartphone into a tool that tracks tree disease outbreaks and deliver forest health data to scientists and forest managers around the world.
We Need TreeTaggr
Forests cover one-third of the total land area on our planet. Yet millions of hectares of native forests are under threat each year by a host of new stresses induced by climate change, including a growing number of pests, diseases, and pollutants. Certain species such as the once-dominant chestnut and elm have been virtually wiped out by invasive disease.
So the fight is on to save the eastern hemlock, ash, and the suddenly vulnerable conifer stands from both native and non-native pests and diseases. And with the TreeTaggr app you can join the fight!
There is no more pressing need than the need to preserve our trees, for our earth, and ourselves. Any way we can help gather information on the health of trees must be embraced. TreeTaggr is a much needed tool for researchers and citizens who, together, are fighting to save our forest trees. Lori Knowles, Health Law Institute, Canada
Developed by the Institute of Forest Biosciences, the TreeTaggr app uses the camera and geolocation functions on a smartphone to ˜tag unhealthy trees in a healthy forest, or, alternatively, healthy trees in an unhealthy stand. This app is the first tool that would leverage the availability and connectivity of smartphones for forest health data collection. It would allow a user to walk into a forest, photograph a tree, add details about the tree, and send the information to a geographic database. The user can then note the tree type, if the tree appears diseased or healthy, and add other observations.
The app would incorporate a game aspect to further encourage people to explore forests and notice tree health. Points will be given to the user as he or she identifies and explores more forests. (Points for exploring how great is that!)
Our goals for this phone app are two-fold: 1) to get the public interested and engaged in gathering forest health information for analysis, and 2) generate forest health trend information that can help curtail disease spread in forests. Anyone interested in promoting healthy forests such as foresters, hikers, conservationists, citizen scientists, educators, and anyone else with a smartphone who cares about trees are all potential users.
The TreeTaggr App:
Automatic detection of the users location when making a report.
Ability for the user to enter information about the tree affected by disease or a parasite.
Attach photographs that will help the scientists evaluate the trees health.
Upload the collected information to a geolocation database.
Display leaderboard information so users can play while making reports.
From a certain perspective TreeTaggr is simple. It is basically a ˜crowd sourced data collection tool for tracking the spread of tree disease within and across forests. But TreeTaggr is also a harbinger for something much bigger. TreeTaggr portends a new way of thinking about scientific research and a new way of thinking about volunteerism. Neil Hepburn, PwC, Canada
We want to raise $20,000 to get the Android phone application code written. Visit TreeTaggr.org/go to contribute, and get rewards.
Framework for the app developed
Database designed and built Microsoft Azure with Geolocation
Web-driven API Communication conduit between database, website, and phone
Android phone application scoped in detail
We have a fully scoped software development proposal that includes all the details and features we have spent the last year brainstorming. This will give us a full-featured beta version of TreeTaggr in hand. We have been fortunate to have some really amazing pro-bono help to get us to this point (We know a guy). With the beta version complete, we will have a product ready to be used, tested and expanded to other smartphone platforms. We can begin gathering ˜tags™ get feedback from beta-testers, and add finishing touches to the app. Any funds raised beyond the $20,000 goal will be used to develop the user interface for the website, and expand the app to additional phone platforms such as iOS and Windows.
Because The Institute of Forest Biosciences is a non-profit 501-c-3 organization, the majority of a donation to fund this app is tax-deductible.
Your smartphone has all the tools necessary to help improve forest health. The TreeTaggr platform has been built from the ground up to give you, your friends, family, colleagues, and anyone else with a smartphone and a passion for forests the ability to create robust, actionable, scientific research.
Treetaggr is a great way to engage not only citizen scientists, but everyone else who uses our forests and wants to keep them healthy for generations to come. This tool will help people understand the threats to our forests on a real-time and local scale, while at the same time getting better regional scale information to forest managers. Michael Rodemeyer, University of Virginia, USA
Other Ways You Can Help
Tell your friends about our campaign and get the word out about TreeTaggr. Visit TreeTaggr.org to learn more about this effort and hit the support button. Send us a quote to add to the TreeTaggr website, and spread the word on Facebook and Twitter.
Contact Information Adam Costanza, President Susan McCord, Executive Director
Institute of Forest Biosciences Institute of Forest Biosciences
Helen Thompson wrote about some of the ongoing efforts to restore the American chestnut tree that has been extirpated by an invasive fungus brought to the U.S. from Asia over a century ago. The Forest Health Initiative (FHI) was discussed for exploring advanced biotechnology approaches to restore this iconic and ecologically important species.
A number of scientists involved in the FHI, Steering Committee members, and the IFB were interviewed for this article. Please note, however, that the FHI is not a stand-along organization.
IFB Staff attended The Alliance for Saving Threatened Forests (ASTF) one-day symposium reporting on host resistance research to the hemlock and balsam woolly adelgids.
The conference took place October 26th at the Haywood County Extension Center, in Waynesville, NC and included talks on the potential development of Hemlock hybrids for the landscape industry; researching artificial infestation techniques and susceptibility of various hemlock species; and identification, evaluation, and propagation of Adelgid-resistant Eastern Hemlocks for reforestation purposes. The symposium was also presented as a webinar which will be available for viewing on the ASTF website threatenedforests.org
The ASTF is a non-profit that is part of the Center for Integrated Pest Management at North Carolina State University – a Forest Biosciences Partner.
The American chestnut tree was among the tall stalwarts of the Appalachian forest for centuries. Its rot-resistant wood was used in barns, railroad ties and telephone poles; its nuts fed people, farm animals and wildlife; its canopy offered shade and mopped up a growing country’s pollution.
Accounting for one out of every four hardwood trees in its Maine-to-Alabama range, it was a king of the forest: fast-growing, straight-grained and, in some areas, an economic lifesaver.
“The people in Canton, N.C., never knew the Depression. They were making money hand over fist,” says Paul Sisco, president of the Carolinas chapter of the Asheville-based American Chestnut Foundation.
They worked for Champion Paper & Fiber Co., which was chewing up chestnut and spitting out not only pulp for paper but globally marketed tannic acid for tanning leather.
But by the mid-1940s, scarcely a mature tree was left standing: A blight that arrived from Asia about 1900 took a disastrous toll. It attacked through cracks in bark until it girdled a tree with a ring nutrients could not penetrate. Roots remained, continuing to produce young trees that also were doomed.
The China option
The last big trees had hardly fallen before scientists and chestnut-loving lay people started looking to create a chestnut tree that could withstand blight. In the years since, various groups have planted more than a half-million experimental trees, usually mixing stock from the doomed young trees with that of blight-resistant foreign trees.
Now, two groups think they’re close to success. They are the traditional cross-breeders of TACF, who in 2009 started planting their most advanced American-Chinese crosses in forests to propagate on their own, and biotechnologists, who hope that a genetically engineered Chinese-American seedling will prove its resistance by 2013.
Ornamental Chinese trees are short, bushy and slow-growing, but have resistance built up over centuries of coexisting with blight. TACF’s goal was to create a tree with 94 percent commercially valuable American characteristics and a minimum of Chinese traits.
Biotechnologists hope more is at stake than just recovering a piece of our ecological past
By providing a proving ground for the use of genetic engineering against one enemy of the forest, they say, the chestnut may show the way toward subduing others, such as the woolly adelgid now attacking Carolina hemlocks.
The current biotech effort, known as the Forest Health Initiative, brings together scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Clemson University, the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, the University of Georgia, and Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Ronald Sederoff, co-director of N.C. State University’s Forest Biosciences Group, is on the advisory committee. It’s underwritten by nearly $6 million from Duke Energy, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities.
It builds on gene mapping done in American and Chinese chestnuts by scientists from Penn State, NCSU, Clemson, the Connecticut Agricultural Research Station, TACF and SUNY-ESF.
Those advocating both approaches are encouraged by what’s happened so far.
The culmination of 25 years of TACF cross-breeding – 4,500 “final generation” trees – are now growing in national forests in Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
As for the biotech advocates, “There are a lot of breakthroughs that we’ve gone through,” says SUNY’s Dr. William Powell. “Just the ability to put genes in a tree took a long, long time.”
Yet neither group is ready to say it has found the Holy Grail.
“You can only declare continued optimism rather than victory at least for another 50 years or so,” says Dr. Fred Hebard, staff pathologist for TACF’s research station in Meadowview, Va. “When those things are 100 feet tall, you can definitely declare victory.”
And biotech researcher Dr. Scott Merkle of the University of Georgia says of the Chinese genes that he hopes turn out to be the right ones: “We call them ‘candidate genes’ because we don’t really know.”
By 2013, the biotechnologists expect some answers. American chestnut seedlings implanted with a Chinese gene are already in the field. A couple of years from now, they’ll be inoculated with blight to test their resistance. Others, bearing some 20 other genes that researchers have isolated, are in the pipeline for planting.
Powell thinks at least three genes are involved in resistance, and “We think we can find the resistant genes within the first 30 that we test.” Clemson and Penn State researchers studying the 45,000 or so Chinese genes paved the way by narrowing the likely ones to 100 or so.
“Once we have a tree that we know is resistant, we will cross it with as many different wild parents as possible to increase diversity,” Powell says.
TACF’s diversity search
The creation of TACF’s national forest trees is being replicated on farms across the chestnut’s former range, including 40 in North Carolina, as volunteer orchardists and researchers work to come up with trees suited to a variety of growing climates. The organization has 6,000 members in 20 states.
The trees in the national forests are too young to be massively attacked by blight, but Stacy Clark, who tends them for the U.S. Forest Service, says they show little sign of it so far and are generally doing well. Some are 12 feet tall.
But last year, a new problem showed up – one Clark hopes was brought in inadvertently from the nursery. It’s Phythopthora cinnamomi, a root rot that thrives in poorly drained soil and warm climates. It’s also an enemy of citrus, shortleaf pine, and even Fraser fir in some areas.
In Seneca, S.C., a retired orthopedic surgeon who has been growing TACF trees for years is fighting the new problem. Except that Dr. Joe James calls it a very old problem, one responsible for the chestnut’s being considered a mountain tree.
His reading – prompted by the fact that all the chestnuts he planted on flat land promptly died – told him that chestnuts’ range once included the Carolinas Piedmont. Their presence near Atlanta has been documented, and remnants of a chestnut forest remain on a Crowders Mountain ridge.
The thinking is that the root rot advanced through warm, wet areas, chasing the chestnuts into mountain areas where freezing temperatures could penetrate thin soil and prevent the rot from taking hold.
Thinking that Chinese trees, which historically coexisted with Phythopthora as well as blight, might carry resistance to both, James planted 12,000 Chinese-American seedlings. Some 4.5 percent proved resistant to root-rot.
James gave his results to FHI, which used them to map for resistant genes, one of which is being put into seedlings due for field-testing in 2013.
No one knows whether crossbreeding or biotech ultimately will prevail as the favored weapon against the enemies of the chestnut. Success could come even from a combination of the two approaches, James says.
“When (geneticists) get the maps worked out thoroughly, then we can start selecting trees based on their genetic analysis. That would speed up our breeding program tremendously,” he says. “We’re going to join hands and cross the finish line together.”
Scientists at Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service (CFS) are using biotechnology approaches in the development of target-specific pest control products for various forest insects and diseases. Biotechnology is defined as the application of science and engineering to live organisms or bioprocesses for the development of useful products. In recent years, biotechnology has made possible the sequencing and identification of thousands of genes from any organism, a discipline called genomics. Many of the genes found in insects affect insect-specific biological processes and if genes controlling these processes can be identified, then an environmentally benign solution for managing an insect might be designed.
Scientist Daniel Doucet is using genomics to study the emerald ash borer (EAB), a highly destructive alien pest that is threatening North America’s ash tree population. Specifically, he is studying the mechanisms of olfaction, or how EAB detects tree volatile semiochemicals (chemicals that evoke a behavioural or physiological response in another organism) at the molecular level. Insects use olfaction as a way to find host trees, which give off volatile compounds or chemical odours. Insects also use olfaction to find mates, with males detecting pheromones given off by female insects. The highly developed antennae of insects are capable of responding to the lowest levels of odours and this response can be measured using electroantennography, a technique that measures nerve impulses that the antenna sends to the brain when the insect is exposed to a given odour. The electrical response of the antenna increases as it responds to odours of biological significance.
Chemical odour receptors in the antennae of EAB are capable of converting the odour stimulus (a chemical signal) into a nerve impulse in the sensory neurons located inside the antennae. A family of proteins called the Odorant-binding proteins (OBPs) is present in the insect antennae and plays a key role in this process. OBPs act like molecular chaperones, capturing and transporting volatile semiochemicals to odorant receptors present on the surface of the sensory neurons, which are located inside the antennae. Doucets team is striving to identify the key OBPs in the insect that carry host tree volatiles to the neurons. Once the OBPs are known, their molecular structure can be determined. The molecular structure of an OBP can help determine with which volatile molecule it binds, and with what affinity.
The task of finding OBPs in the EAB genome is like looking for a needle in a haystack. To date, Doucets team has found what they believe to be five OBPs from amongst 16,000 pieces of genetic material (DNA) taken from the EAB. They are now beginning to study these OBPs as part of a longer-term effort that could lead to a biocontrol strategy for EAB. For example, by identifying the molecule that binds to a given OBP, a replacement (false) volatile molecule could be designed to prevent the receptor from receiving the true molecule. In this way the insect would not be able to receive the odour signal it needs to locate a host tree, its food or its mating partner.
Understanding EAB olfaction as it is related to tree volatiles will also be useful for attracting and trapping insects. Once the tree volatiles that signal an insect to find a host tree are known, they can then be purified or synthesized and used as lures in traps. Traps are an essential tool in the early detection of new infestations, and early detection is of critical importance in managing outbreaks of invasive insect pests such as EAB.
Research conducted at GLFC will help scientists decipher how EAB navigates in a universe of odours, locates a suitable host tree, and finds mating partners and food. This information is critical for developing a complete understanding of this invasive pest’s biology, and for developing better monitoring and control options. Ultimately, this research might help mitigate economic losses to the forest industry and contribute to the sustainability of Canada’s forests.
A few modifications to the eucalyptus tree can go a long way, and ArborGen has the research data to prove it. Since May 2010, the Summerville, S.C., company has been developing genetically modified eucalyptus trees and, now with the help of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, it has identified a lignin-modified eucalyptus tree that can release twice as much sugar in comparison to unmodified versions.
The modified trees are able to counteract the process of recalcitrance the cell walls use to fight against processes that attempt to break down the lignin. Typically, to access the sugars in the biomass, pretreatment applications involving heat, pressure and chemicals are used to break down the biomass into sugar, but ArborGen has found that by down-regulating the lignin pathway in the cinnamate-4-hydroxylase (C4H), the trees are able to release more sugar. And while the down regulation of the C4H has hindered the growth of some species, the E. grandis x E. urophylla tree lines grow well. The C4H lines, ArborGen estimates, can produce roughly 10 dry-tons per acre per year of biomass, and could also produce nearly 1,000 gallons of biofuels per acre.
Angela Ziebell with NREL noted that what makes this eucalyptus research interesting is the increased ease with which the sugars are released also adding that the challenge is not just how much sugar a plant contains, but whether the plant will release that sugar without excessive processing.
In May 2010, the USDAs Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service approved a permit submitted by ArborGen to plant and grow the GM trees on 29 separate sites, which, among other aspects, would also test for cold tolerance. According to NREL researchers the C4H modified line of trees has only half of the lignin, and the GM trees also release an astounding 99 percent of their sugar compared to 50 percent in unmodified plants. We think the result of this technology may increase the potential of Eucalyptus as a biomass source for liquid fuels Ziebell said. This result is particularly exciting given that efficient sugar release from plants is an obstacle to achieving affordable biofuels.
Carlton focused on the the potential benefits to forest health, and the importance of the Forest Health Initiative in discovering if forest biotechnology is a viable tool from a science, social, and regulatory perspective. Adam discussed why it is critically important that Responsible Use Principles are adhered to when biotech trees are used in the future.
How can forest biotechnology play a role in the forests of our future?
This decade saw the anniversary of two very different but revolutionary discoveries. The 50th anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick, the building block of all life on earth, and the 100th anniversary of the positive identification of chestnut blight at the New York Botanical Gardens. Both of these events had an enormous impact on the future of our forests. Today, sequencing of tree genomes such as Populus, Eucalyptus, and Castanea mollissima, is providing a foundation of information from which discoveries in growth, disease and stress resistance, wood characteristics and plant interactions can take place. The next decade will be a time of rapid expansion for biotech trees throughout the world in an attempt to meet global demand for forest products, biofuels, to restore threatened species, and to protect future forests from invasive pests and climate change.