Vermont / New Hampshire News

Chapter Position on Darling

Late in 2023 The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) abruptly withdrew its support for the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science & Forestry (SUNY-ESF) petition for deregulation of the Darling line of genetically modified (transgenic) American Chestnut. Many of you have interest in it, have done work with it in the field, or have even committed financial resources to TACF and/or TACF’s Maine Chapter in furtherance of it. Many of you wrote or called me. In summary, the question you all asked was, “Wait, what?” I didn’t have answers. Since then, TACF has shared some of the reasoning for discontinuing its support of Darling, and SUNY-ESF has acknowledged a critical labeling error. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) final determination on the petition is still outstanding. 

 

Initially I wasn’t even sure how to respond, because it came as quite a surprise. So, I’ve waited to comment on behalf of the chapter, have read what’s available, asked questions, attended Chapters Committee meetings and Chestnut Chats, and have tried to understand where we go from here. At the risk of being redundant, because some of this has been published elsewhere, this presents what we know. And in summary, where I think we stand with Darling as a chapter, at least in the near term.

What we Know

The USDA issued a preliminary ruling that is stated in the following link:

https://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/aphisdocs/19-30901p-dpra.pdf

It suggested that the Darling 58 transgenic variety of American Chestnut developed by SUNY-ESF was close to final action. The VT-NH Chapter optimistically looked forward to a final deregulation decision. We expected it to clarify the extent to which we could participate in Darling pollinations and plantings beyond the only site permitted within our two states.

Last summer chapter members pollinated flowers on trees with what we believed to be Darling 58 pollen. It was obtained through TACF from the University of New England (UNE) in Biddeford, Maine. But later genetic testing revealed the trees from which the pollen was harvested by UNE were Darling 54, not Darling 58. Both varieties are part of the deregulation petition, but Darling 54 is inferior to Darling 58, based on location of the Oxalic Oxidase gene on chromosomal structures. Both varieties rely on the same “constitutive promoter” which turns oxidase production in the trees on continuously. 

 

SUNY-ESF recently acknowledged a labeling error going back to 2016, which led to errant research result reporting between the varieties, and to the mistaken pollen variety from UNE. From what I can determine, the mistake was so early in Darling’s development that most, if not all observations of the trees represented as Darling 58, are almost entirely of Darling 54. And, that little Darling 58 even exists. Here is a link to SUNY-ESF’s current position regarding its work with Darling.

https://www.esf.edu/chestnut/progress-report/2023.php

 

TACF looked forward to a final deregulation decision too, until it withdrew support for it. So, the withdrawal did come as a surprise. TACF has stated that the withdrawal is based on performance issues observed with Darling varieties and has shared some of those performance concerns. Having supported SUNY-ESF financially and directly in other ways, TACF is unhappy and disappointed about what has happened. The following link includes Chestnut Chats discussing the TACF position and its concerns about the Darling tree performance.

https://tacf.org/darling-58/

 

The VT-NH chapter supports an “all possible” approach to restoration be it with a blight resistant or blight tolerant American Chestnut. Our Chapter’s goal, stated in the December 2021 Strategic Plan, remains:

Self-sustaining stands of blight tolerant American Chestnut trees growing in Vermont and New Hampshire woodlands. 

The term blight tolerant was used in the Strategic plan because when it was written emphasis was given to transgenic tree success. The term blight resistance is more general term and applies to a wider range of restoration approaches. Even if the Darling varieties fail in part or completely, we support the pursuit of a transgenic variety, or other tree, which could replace it, consistent with the 3-BUR strategy (Breeding, Biocontrol and Biotechnology) for successful reintroduction.

 

In 2022 our chapter funded transgenic research both at TACF and through TACF’s Maine Chapter working with UNE, by granting $2,000 to each. We have never funded SUNY-ESF directly. There are other programs we could consider funding in the future.

Summary

Notwithstanding the critical labeling error, it’s possible that SUNY-ESF is well along in biotechnology research seeking a blight tolerant transgenic variety. We hope that SUNY’s wound-inducible DarWin variety, which is now being speed-bred at UNE, will outperform Darling. But with no direct support going to SUNY-ESF, and as a licensee of TACF, we can only wish SUNY-ESF the best right now and follow their efforts. We can do nothing with or for Darling. Our chapter will follow other biotechnology research efforts which TACF sponsors and/or supports being done elsewhere. Such efforts are underway at the University of Georgia. For now, the biotechnology prong of “3-Bur” has taken a big step back from where we thought it was. There don’t appear to be any actionable efforts we can take this year with transgenics, much less Darling.

The good news is that the VT-NH Chapter has focused on location of wild type trees, and preservation of genetic diversity of known American Chestnut trees. Our recent work includes plantings in Germplasm Conservation Orchards (GCO’s), maintenance of breeding and seed orchard trees with unique American ancestors, and distribution of free, pure American seeds to members each year. We’ll continue all these efforts. This positions us well for restoration trial plantings when blight resistant or blight tolerant pollen becomes available – wherever it may come from and whenever it becomes available. The female flower of American and hybrid-American trees remains key, and our efforts have prepared us for that eventuality.

Part of the reality of scientific research is that there are unanticipated bumps in the road. We are navigating one such bump. But an “all possible” strategy, within the constraints of our chapter’s financial and human volunteer resources, remains the best long-term way to attain our goal until another promising development materializes. 

 

I hope this has answered some of your many questions, given you some idea of where we can, and cannot go this year as a chapter. We are planning a science meeting to guide our field efforts, and an annual meeting on May 11th, which will clarify our financial resources and will focus on both the things we are doing and might do. Thanks to all of you, we are all volunteers.

 

Evan Fox

VT/NH Chapter President

Below is a link to a related news story by David Brooks that ran in the Concord Monitor. It presents an overview of recent developments in chestnut restoration efforts and how they may be evolving. David has followed chestnut restoration for roughly 10 years and has coordinated with the VT/NH Chapter to write numerous informative stories about the process.

https://www.concordmonitor.com/chestnut-tree-genertic-modification-53798056

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Pets of The American Chestnut Foundation: Episode 3

Charlie Renfield Sparkle, aka Charlie Chestnut or “Chichi,” is a certified HLI (Horrible Little Idiot) with over 6 months experience of bringing joy and chaos to the home of TACF’s Northern Regional Outreach Coordinator, Catherine Martini. He was brought home last fall along with the chestnut harvest and has been trying to bury himself in the forest ever since. Charlie is not a wild-type American chihuahua and hasn’t been genotyped yet, but phenotypically we believe he is a Pug-Chihuahua hybrid.
When not digging up various disgusting things in the yard, Charlie is most frequently attacking his siblings or snoring on Catherine’s lap while she checks her emails.

Matilda is the soul-dog and familiar of Catherine. She is a fearsome and powerful wrestler who only plays “Matilda wins.” Her favorite activities include sunning herself, going for long walks in the wilderness, protecting every baby (no matter what species – most recently, bunnies), and giving an amount of kisses way above the recommended daily allowance. Matilda prides herself on her ability to make anyone, even her dog siblings, give up their spot on the couch for her. And let’s face it, she really deserves that spot more than any of us do.

Moreau “Goose” Martini-Riley is a 5-year-old boxer dog who got the nickname of “Goose” because he is so silly. Goose is here for two reasons: to play, and to eat butter – and he’s not allowed to eat butter.
Goose only has one brain cell, which is heart-shaped, so he’s perfectly suited to his job of being the charismatic goof-ball who loves everyone. He enjoys making everyone he meets feel like the most important person in the world and will sneak in a sloppy kiss or two if you let him. Goose loves to help in the garden, mostly by digging holes, but he also loves to hurt in the garden, mostly by digging holes. Goose was born deaf, but he doesn’t know it – he knows sign commands and enjoys sleeping through his siblings’ barking parties.
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Join us on TODAY, April 19, 2024, from 11:30AM – 1:00PM (EDT), for the next LIVE Chestnut Chat, where we'll talk all about growing chestnuts!

In this episode, we will cover all the basics of planting, growing, and maintaining American chestnut trees. TACF staff and expert volunteers will talk about how to plant chestnuts from seed and from seedlings, including bareroot and containerized seedlings, as well as considerations for planting in the spring versus the fall. Bring your questions and don’t miss this Chestnut Chat that is sure to become an instant classic.

Visit the link to save your spot! tacf.org/event/chestnut-chat-growing-chestnuts/
... See MoreSee Less

Join us on TODAY, April 19, 2024, from 11:30AM – 1:00PM (EDT), for the next LIVE Chestnut Chat, where well talk all about growing chestnuts!

In this episode, we will cover all the basics of planting, growing, and maintaining American chestnut trees. TACF staff and expert volunteers will talk about how to plant chestnuts from seed and from seedlings, including bareroot and containerized seedlings, as well as considerations for planting in the spring versus the fall. Bring your questions and don’t miss this Chestnut Chat that is sure to become an instant classic.

Visit the link to save your spot! https://tacf.org/event/chestnut-chat-growing-chestnuts/

1 CommentComment on Facebook

Was this episode recorded? I was only able to follow along for a few minutes because I was at work. But, I'd love to see this again.

You can make a difference for people, for an ecosystem, and for a tree.

Join the movement to save the American chestnut by becoming a member of The American Chestnut Foundation today.

support.tacf.org/membership
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You can make a difference for people, for an ecosystem, and for a tree.

Join the movement to save the American chestnut by becoming a member of The American Chestnut Foundation today.

https://support.tacf.org/membership

One year ago volunteers gathered at Pryor Orchard in Edneyville, NC and planted chestnuts seeds gathered on the Appalachian Trail by NC/SC Chapter member Jon Taylor, who also led a planting demonstration at the start of the event.

To see find out about volunteer and planting events in your neck of the woods, visit our events calendar at tacf.org/events/category/tacf/
... See MoreSee Less

One year ago volunteers gathered at Pryor Orchard in Edneyville, NC and planted chestnuts seeds gathered on the Appalachian Trail by NC/SC Chapter member Jon Taylor, who also led a planting demonstration at the start of the event.

To see find out about volunteer and planting events in your neck of the woods, visit our events calendar at https://tacf.org/events/category/tacf/

HAPPENING IN TWO DAYS!

The VA Department of Forestry and VATACF will be planting 300 bareroot seedlings at Lesesne State Forest on Monday, April 15th. Planting will begin at 10:00AM and last until we are finished (likely 4-6 hours depending on how many folks come out). Please come out and help us plant these trees in our effort to restore the American chestnut!

Please note that the terrain we are planting on has a lot of brush and debris, it is not easy to get around. If you have movement issues I recommend selecting another of our volunteer events. Bring water, lunch/snacks, bug spray or sunscreen if needed, and gardening gloves. We will have all the equipment required for planting.

Please visit the link for more information. tacf.org/event/planting-at-lesesne-state-forest/
... See MoreSee Less

HAPPENING IN TWO DAYS! 

The VA Department of Forestry and VATACF will be planting 300 bareroot seedlings at Lesesne State Forest on Monday, April 15th. Planting will begin at 10:00AM and last until we are finished (likely 4-6 hours depending on how many folks come out). Please come out and help us plant these trees in our effort to restore the American chestnut!

Please note that the terrain we are planting on has a lot of brush and debris, it is not easy to get around. If you have movement issues I recommend selecting another of our volunteer events. Bring water, lunch/snacks, bug spray or sunscreen if needed, and gardening gloves. We will have all the equipment required for planting.

Please visit the link for more information. https://tacf.org/event/planting-at-lesesne-state-forest/

1 CommentComment on Facebook

Guess no accountants will participate

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