Scientists pin hopes on hi-tech solution to save trees
A NEW gene map could help prevent Britain’s ash trees from being wiped out by a devastating fungal disease.
Scientists hope the ash tree genome will lead to effective ways of fighting the infection that has damaged continental Europe.
Ash dieback, also known as Chalara, is caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. Young trees are especially vulnerable, suffering leaf loss and bark damage that rapidly prove fatal.
Since appearing in Poland in 1992, the infection has swept westwards.
The first British case of ash dieback was reported in Buckinghamshire in 2012 and another outbreak was confirmed in the Peak District in July 2015.
Experts fear a major epidemic could kill 48 million of the UK’s 130 million ash trees and potentially change the face of the British countryside. The ash makes up around 5.5 per cent of Britain’s woodland.
Losing large numbers of ash trees could also have knock-on effects that would be damaging to other plant and animal species.
The team from the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) at Kew, west London, hopes to identify genes that may be associated with resistance to ash dieback.
Project leader Dr Richard Buggs, who led the work at Queen Mary, University of London, said: “This is the first time a plant genome has been rapidly sequenced in response to an emerging disease threat.
“Kew is continuing to work with the latest genomic technologies to increase the armoury of methods that can be deployed against plant pests and pathogens.”
The research is published in Nature journal.