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Scientists Look to Trees' Genetics for Clues to Disease and Pest Resistance

European ash trees being studied by Jennifer Koch, a USDA Forest Service scientist in Delaware, Ohio, demonstrate various levels of natural resistance to emerald ash borer. The tree on the right appears to be a ''lingering'' ash, a tree that is remaining healthy while its neighbors die. USDA Forest Service photo, Delaware, OH, August 1, 2018 - Somewhere in their genetic makeup, trees may hold the solutions to many of the pests and diseases besetting them, including the notorious and seemingly insatiable emerald ash borer. A workshop organized by the USDA Forest Service and partners will bring 95 tree genetic researchers and forest managers from around the world to Mt. Sterling, Ohio, to discuss the challenges facing sustainability and expansion of healthy native, managed, and urban forests worldwide.

The 6th International Workshop on the Genetics of Tree-Parasite Interactions, or more simply Tree Resistance to Insects and Diseases, runs from Aug. 5-10 at the Deer Creek State Park Conference Center. The meeting is designed to enhance the dialog about the use of naturally occurring genetic resistance to address forest health issues resulting from the devastating impacts of insect and disease issues. Discussions will focus on current successes in applied breeding and restoration programs as well as emerging ideas and technologies relevant to resistance genetics and breeding programs. 

Although only the sixth actual International Workshop, the meeting of genetic scientists goes back 65 years, with the location alternating between the United States and various European countries. This is the first time since 1964 the meeting has been located in the Eastern U.S.; interest and international concern over diseases and pests documented in the region, including emerald ash borer, beech bark disease, chestnut blight, butternut canker, and hemlock woolly adelgid, drew scientists to Ohio this year.

“With the implementation of genetic resistance in response to tree diseases and insects coming to the forefront, this workshop has the potential to shape the future of tree breeding programs in the U.S. and worldwide,” said Jennifer Koch, a research biologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Delaware, Ohio, and chairperson of the Organizing Committee. “The directions that individual breeding programs may choose for developing resistant trees in the future will likely rely heavily on the research that we’ll be discussing.”

The workshop is being hosted by the USDA Forest Service, with additional support from the University of Kentucky’s Forest Health Research and Education Center, three working groups under the International Union of Forest Research Organizations, The Ohio State University, the American Phytopathological Society Forest Pathology Committee, INRA (a French public agricultural science research institute), New Phytologist Trust and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’sNational Institute of Food and Agriculture. Additional information can be found at


The mission of the Northern Research Station is to improve people's lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.


The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains world-renowned forestry research and wildland fire management organizations. National forests and grasslands contribute more than $30 billion to the American economy annually and support nearly 360,000 jobs. These lands also provide 30 percent of the nation's surface drinking water to cities and rural communities; approximately 60 million Americans rely on drinking water that originated from the National Forest System.


USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay).

Last modified: August 1, 2018