The history of elm breeding

L. Mittempergher, A. Santini


Breeding elms resistant to Dutch elm disease (DED) started in the Netherlands in the year 1928 on the initiative of a group of women scientists. They were active until 1954, when Hans Heybroek took over at the Dorschkamp Research Institute and carried on until his retirement in 1992. Two more programmes were initiated in Europe, in Italy and Spain, in 1978 and 1993 respectively, under the impulse of Dutch breeding activities. Elm breeding in America began in 1937 in the USDA-Agricultural Research Service Laboratories and is still being pursued under the leadership of Alden Townsend. Another programme was set up at the University of Wisconsin in 1958, led by Eugene Smalley and was closed after his retirement and death in 2002. A third programme found birth at the Morton Arboretum, Chicago, in 1972 where activities are still carried out by George Ware since his retirement. The number of resistant elm clones released on the market and the scientific progress fostered by breeding activities indicate that the long work needed to carry them on is a positive one. Among the key points considered are: elm germplasm collection, elm species crossability, inoculation system and disease evaluation, building up of resistance, and the possible consequences from introducing foreign species and hybrids to native elms. Because of shortage of funding long-term research and the perception that biotechnology will provide rapid solutions to long-term problems, traditional elm breeding activities seem now to be in difficulty. In this context, it seems wise to take all possible steps to avoid a loss in the precious gene resources so far collected and not to give up on traditional elm breeding activities, which so far has been found to be the sole means in providing tangible results for controlling DED.


Dutch elm disease; elm pathology; hybridization; inoculation methods

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