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CoBRA wiki

  A healthy forest is diverse. It has trees and plants of different ages, species, heights and genetic make-up. Diversity provides good quality wildlife habitat and helps limit the size and number of wildfires and insect outbreaks. In the forests of the Canadian rocky mountains,specifically the national parks, the activity of mountain pine beetle plays a role in creating forest diversity. Healthy forests are in a constant state of change in part through natural disturbances like avalanches, landslides, floods, fire and the activity of insects and diseases. Forests have evolved with these processes for thousands of years. Without them, the natural balance is lost. While mountain pine beetle are a natural part of the southern Rocky Mountain ecosystem, recent beetle outbreaks are larger than those of the past. Decades of fire suppression have created large tracts of older pine forest that provide a highway for beetle expansion. The lack of fire, combined with a recent warming trend, means that the beetles are now occurring where they haven't been observed before: farther east, farther north and at higher elevations. This is cause for concern as the mountain national parks form the margin between the beetle outbreak in British Columbia and commercial forests in Alberta. It is important to note that the beetle itself doesn’t kill the trees and that the detrimental effects associated with the mountain beetle are produced by Grosmannia Clavigera, or blue stain fungus (BSF). This fungus causes irreversible damage to the trees internal systems by converting the trees natural defenses into a carbon based food source. This clogs the various nutrient channels within the tree and the fungus uses those channels as a means to spread and eventually kill the tree. Our project will focus on building a bacterial plasmid that will produce and secrete the chitinase enzyme that will in turn be able to break down the chitin rich membranes of the BSF while leaving the tree unaffected. These genes have been cloned from interior spruce, and lodgepole pine tree, which are native to this ecosystem. Thus, the trees will be able to use their own defenses to deal with the mountain pine beetle.