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Emily Dye: Growing with CAMCORE

The famous Norman Borlaug, the creator of Dwarf Wheat, formed the basis of tree improvement and conservation methods that are used by Camcore and the Tree Improvement Program at NC State today. Borlaug is renowned as the Father of the Green Revolution by creating processes to develop wheat varieties that were disease resistant with increased adaptation to growing conditions, which lead to an extremely high yield. He demonstrated the possibilities of using genetic material to develop plants that were of the highest quality and adaptability. Camcore uses this model to improve the efficiency of tree growth and conserve genetic diversity to sustain forests.

Camcore is an international tree-breeding and gene conservation cooperative at NC State University. The seed and pollen technology laboratory works with forest genetic material that is collected worldwide and used in performing plant testing and propagation research before redistributing the material to cooperators in many countries. I perform the role of seed lab and greenhouse assistant. Camcore is focused on managing the use of genetic resources in a sustainable way by maintaining genetic diversity within forest populations. Maintaining genetic diversity mitigates the negative impacts caused by deforestation.

I work with Romeo, other Camcore, and student researchers, to conduct experimentation and analysis of mainly pine and eucalyptus plant material. My responsibilities include planning and organizing our large seed bank inventories as well as helping to perform seed testing, treatments, processing, and sample preparation. The seed bank contains material that dates back to collections from the ’70s and ’80s. A recurring project that utilizes this plant material is seed germination trials. These germination trials involve growing sprouts in a controlled lab environment to determine the quality of the seeds stored within the bank. A similar process is done with pollen granules as well. By determining the highest quality of plant material within specific collections, the seeds and pollen may be distributed to Camcore partners globally.

A photo of the CAMCORE greenhouse

Alongside the seedlings, I have grown as a team member, student, researcher, and communicator because of the team at Camcore. Working with Camcore has allowed me to become involved in various types of projects that lead to the goal of maintaining genetic variation within forests to support ecosystems, the environment, and local communities. The members of Camcore include me in every step of the process of these larger projects, which gives me a full perspective of how each task leads to a larger purpose. One of the first projects I assisted in involved creating nutrient solutions in the lab, which were then used to treat eucalyptus plants in a greenhouse. It became a part of my daily routine to head to the greenhouse every morning and take care of these eucalyptus plants by watering, pruning, and inspecting for weeds or other harmful critters. This was one of my favorite parts of the experience. It allowed me to step away from the business of my day and spend time outside. After these plants were up to the growth standards, we spent a few days trimming and collecting all the leaves, leaving only the bare stems. The purpose of this was so that the leaves could be scanned using near-infrared technology to analyze nutrient properties. The results of the scans informed us which nutrient mixture produced plants with the highest quality material and yield possibility. In addition to genetic conservation, these experiments serve as methods for tree improvement. In cooperation with NC State’s tree improvement program, Camcore works to “improve adaptability, growth rate, disease resistance, wood quality and cold/drought tolerance”. Camcore is able to breed plants to perform well in specific environments and then determine the best individual trees, which genetic material can be replicated from.

Before working with Camcore, I had yet to gain knowledge of the lumber or forestry industry. Through this internship, I have learned how intentional genetic selection can help prevent and mitigate deforestation impacts, as well as increase the efficiency and effectiveness of tree breeding processes. Assisting in research and experimentation with Camcore allowed me to learn technical lab and fieldwork skills. Although I don’t plan to stay in the forestry industry specifically, I aim to work in a role that allows me an opportunity to become involved in an array of projects, as I have as a greenhouse and seed lab assistant. This introduction to the environmental sector has made me realize I want to collaborate with others in the research process and its communication. In the future, I want to become more involved in activism and environmental protection, which is more related to my focal area of Environmental Policy. Camcore works with international partners in the effort for conservation. I would like to continue to learn about global environmental protection and the ways in which we can collaborate and learn from international organizations. Beginning the development of my career at Camcore excites me for the future of my journey in conservational science and advocacy.