New England’s First Experimental Transgenic Orchard

Published July 16, 2021

In mid-May, TACF members and volunteers worked non-stop to create New England’s first transgenic chestnut seedling orchard in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Transgenic chestnuts have an extra gene from wheat to protect them from the fungal blight that kills the American chestnut. Because the transgenic chestnuts are federally regulated, the site is governed by a USDA APHIS outplanting permit.

Creating the orchard was quite an effort. It included a controlled burn to prepare the site, placement of fifty 10-foot posts that were cemented in, and assembling 900 feet of 8 ft fencing to surround the site.

The experimental orchard includes a total of 550 chestnut seedlings, all of which were sown in greenhouses at the University of New England. Of these seedlings about 360 are transgenic (blight-tolerant) chestnuts from across the American chestnut’s native range. The transgenic seedlings are the transgenic offspring from mother trees originating in Indiana, New York, Vermont, Virginia, and Maine. The remaining seedlings consist of four types of controls. One type of control includes the full-siblings of the transgenic seedlings, which are from the same mother trees but did not inherit the blight tolerance gene. Also included as controls are full Chinese chestnuts, B3F3 backcross hybrids, and F1s (a 50/50 cross with Chinese). The research aims to carefully compare these chestnut varieties in the field in terms of survival, performance, and long-term growth rates. Monitoring of all seedlings will continue for years to come.

The fully planted orchard

Several dozen local volunteers, Cub Scout Pack #47, and TACF chapter members throughout New England and as far as Alberta, Canada gifted hundreds of hours of their time to constructing and planting the orchard. Many volunteers labored for 2-4 days and traveled long distances. Their effort is greatly appreciated!

For more information, contact Dr. Tom Klak at the University of New England (

Ellen Speirs, ME Chapter Intern