USDA awards researchers $1.3 million grant to study ‘Christmas tree rot’

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved $1.3 million in funds for research on “Christmas tree rot,” Campus Reform learned on Monday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved $1.3 million in funding to study “Christmas tree rot.”

A team of scientists, led by Dr. Gary Chastagner of Washington State University, plan to deploy the federal funds over the next five years to identify trees with genetic traits resistant to Phytophthora, a fungus that plagues some firs.

The team hopes the study will allow farmers to develop Christmas trees that are immune to the disease, colloquially known as “Christmas tree rot.”

According to Chastagner, the top researcher, the size of the grant is unprecedented.

“I’d suspect it’s one of the largest grants that anyone has been given to work on Christmas trees,” Chastagner told Campus Reform on Monday.

Perhaps because of the holiday, the USDA did not make a spokesperson available to Campus Reform in time for publication.

Chastagner, however, said his team has applied for such grants for the past four years, but had been unsuccessful until 2012.

The funds will cover the personnel and materials needed to identify the genes carried by certain Christmas trees which are resistant to Phytophthora, he said.

Another researcher on the team said discoveries from the research could save the Christmas tree industry millions in waste each year.

“Using chemical applications to treat Phytophthora root rot is very costly -- often resulting in farmers spending more money to treat the trees than they make by selling them,” Dr. Kelly Ivors of North Carolina State University, a member of Chastagner’s team, said in a news release.

She added by “using alternative methods” researchers “are helping to fix the problem organically and in a more cost-effective manner.”

The five universities involved in the project are Washington State University, theUniversity of California – Davis, North Carolina State University, Michigan State University, and Pennsylvania State University.

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