Forestry co-operatives at Alabama's Auburn University to develop commercial-scale screening protocol for fusarium circinatum fungus that causes pitch canker; project is supported with US$218,000 grant from US Forest Service

AUBURN, Alabama , June 4, 2014 (press release) – The Southern Forest Nursery Management Cooperative and Forest Health Cooperative, research cooperatives in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, have received a $218,000 grant from the US Forest Service to improve screening for Fusarium circinatum, a fungus that is threatening conifer forest ecosystems globally. The grant will fund development of a new testing protocol with PCR (polymerase chain reaction), using species-specific genetic markers for the fungus that causes Pitch Canker. The current screening method takes weeks and is unreliable, so the fungus is still being spread globally in infected seed and seedlings. Once in place and approved by the International Seed Testing Association, the new method could make Auburn the central source for testing pine seedlings for pitch canker. The project is in cooperation with the University of Florida at Gainesville, where the genome of the pitch canker was initially sequenced.

The grant has funded a postdoctoral fellow, Ryan Nadel, who will be developing the new testing protocol, making it as accurate as possible, and perfecting a system that can be used commercially. One of the big questions he has to settle is the testing threshold, or exactly how much seed or plant material is needed for an accurate test. Scott Enebak, director of the Southern Forest Nursery Management Cooperative, says that they hope to have a testing system ready and changes in place to the International Seed Testing Association’s rules by the end of three years.

This project highlights the unique benefits of the two research cooperatives here at the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. Building on a collaborative relationship with the University of Florida, this grant will allow the cooperatives to extend the research and then apply it directly in a commercial setting to benefit their members in industry.

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