Creative Research Medal 2011
Scott Merkle, professor of forest biotechnology, has been studying chestnut trees for more than 20 years. Over the past five years, his lab has made significant progress in efforts to restore the American chestnut to Eastern forests. Its loss to chestnut blight in the 1920s and ’30s is regarded as the most devastating forest disease in history.
Merkle’s success with somatic embryogenesis provided the enabling technology to mass propagate American chestnut trees with genetic resistance to the blight for reforestation — and to develop trees with transgene-based resistance to the blight. His work also led directly to the development elsewhere of a second method of regenerating trees, from micropropagated shoots derived from somatic embryos, rather than directly from embryos. His work goes far beyond a single tree species, extending the use of biotechnology to much broader effect.