A reference genome assembly and adaptive trait analysis of Castanea mollissima ‘Vanuxem,’ a source of resistance to chestnut blight in restoration breeding
Forest tree species are increasingly subject to severe mortalities from exotic pests, pathogens, and invasive organisms, accelerated by climate change. Such forest health issues are threatening multiple species and ecosystem sustainability globally. One of the most extreme examples of forest ecosystem disruption is the extirpation of the American chestnut (Castanea dentata) caused by the introduction of chestnut blight and root rot pathogens from Asia. Asian species of chestnut are being employed as donors of disease resistance genes to restore native chestnut species in North America and Europe. To aid in the restoration of threatened chestnut species, we present the assembly of a reference genome for Chinese chestnut (C. mollissima) “Vanuxem,” one of the donors of disease resistance for American chestnut restoration. From the de novo assembly of the complete genome (725.2 Mb in 14,110 contigs), over half of the sequences have been anchored to the 12 genetic linkage groups. The anchoring is validated by genetic maps and in situ hybridization to chromosomes. We demonstrate the value of the genome as a platform for research and species restoration, including signatures of selection differentiating American chestnut from Chinese chestnut to identify important candidate genes for disease resistance, comparisons of genome organization with other woody species, and a genome-wide examination of progress in backcross breeding for blight resistance. This reference assembly should prove of great value in the understanding, improvement, and restoration of chestnut species.