On Sept. 30, 2016 Shenandoah biology majors Fawzia Bhatty ’17 and Dillon Richardson ’18 presented their summer research project at the NE1333 multistate American chestnut research project meeting. This is an annual meeting of American chestnut researchers who are working together on a multistate project titled “Biological Improvement of Chestnut through Technologies that Address Management of the Species, its Pathogens and Pests.”
The American chestnut tree used to be the dominant forest tree along the East coast. However, it was nearly wiped out after the introduction of the pathogenic fungus C. parasitica from China. Unlike the American chestnut tree, the Chinese chestnut tree is resistant to C. parasitica. Assistant Professor of Biology Laurel Rodgers, Ph.D., has hypothesized that the differences in the tree microbiomes are contributing to the differences in resistance between the Chinese and American chestnut trees. Her current project is focused on determining the best method for surveying the microbiomes within the chestnut trees. Dr. Rodgers’ research is funded by The American Chestnut Foundation and Mark Ohrstrom.
Fawzia and Dillon spent this past summer using DNA sequencing to identify fungi they cultured from an American and a Chinese chestnut tree. Their results will be compared to the fungi identified by the next-generation sequencing method, Illumina.
Once Rodgers and her students determine the most accurate method – traditional or Illumina sequencing – they will expand the project to compare the microbiomes of American chestnut, Chinese chestnut, and hybrid chestnut trees. The ultimate goal is to determine if one or more endophytes (non-pathogenic fungus growing within a plant) contribute to resistance against C. parasitica and can thus be used as a biocontrol against the pathogenic.