“Characterizing a locus that confers resistance to Beech Bark Disease”
American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is an ecologically and economically important native species. This species has high-quality wood used for furniture, flooring, and firewood, and its beech nuts are a vital nutrition source for many species ranging from birds to deer and black bears. American beech trees are seriously threatened since its smooth bark makes it susceptible to Beech Bark Disease (BBD). BBD is caused by an insect-fungal complex attack that begins with scale insects (Cryptococcus fagisuga) that attack the tree to feed on its sap. Insect feeding in turn creates points of entry for the fungal pathogens that cause BBD. When American beech trees are evaluated for BBD, some individuals show signs of resistance; this resistance was previously genetically linked to a chromosomal locus. For this project, we gathered samples from infected individuals from Arnot forest for genome sequencing using Nanopore technology. This data was analyzed and compared to previously collected and sequenced samples from both resistant and susceptible trees in an attempt to characterize a locus that provides beech trees with resistance to this insect-fungal attack. This effort will help future conservation and breeding efforts and contribute to the restoration of ecosystems afflicted with BBD. Without intervention, BBD would continue to impact the large number of organisms that depend on this native tree species to survive. Information derived from this research will also provide woodlot managers an early detection tool that would save them time and money.
As a biological sciences undergraduate interested in genetics, bioinformatics is a valuable skill to acquire, especially with how quickly research is evolving. This summer I was fortunate enough to conduct research in the BTI Computational Biology Center (BCBC) with my mentor Dr. Adrian Powell and my PI Dr. Suzy Strickler, both of whom supported and guided me through my research journey which I am extremely grateful for. This summer has been one of the most insightful summers I have experienced, both academically and socially. I had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be a successful plant scientist while enjoying the beautiful city of Ithaca. I made many genuine connections that taught me numerous valuable lessons. This internship has helped me be more confident in my skills, prepare for graduate school, and it unexpectedly opened many new doors for me, even beyond the academic world.