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New Screening Method To Protect Europe’s Ash Trees

Scientists based at the University of York have completed an investigation into a screening method for a disease that is ravaging the ash tress (Fraxinus excelsior) of Europe. The disease is fungal in origin, arising from a fungal pathogen called Hymenoscyphus fraxineus.

The aim of the research is to find genetic markers that can predict if individual trees in populations of ash will be vulnerable to the disease or if they will be able to tolerate it and survive. By pre-screening tree seedlings, it is hoped that more resistant groups of ash trees can be planted.

The genetic marker was discovered through forensic-like analysis. Using a population of trees with diverse susceptibility (as shown by visual patterns of fungal infection), the researchers sequenced RNA drawn from the trees. The subsequent molecular analysis was used to identify genes whose sequence matched the disease symptoms.

Using this information, the researchers were able to identify gene markers that correlated with low susceptibility to ash dieback disease.

They then applied this knowledge to a new second population of trees. By using the identified gene markers the scientists were able to successfully predict which of the trees were likely to have a low level of susceptibility to Hymenoscyphus fraxineus.

In a research brief, one of the scientists behind the new monitoring method, Professor Ian Bancroft, of CNAP, stated:

“Tree disease epidemics are a global problem, impacting food security, biodiversity and national economies. The approach we have used has never previously been used to screen for disease-resistant plants and in principle could be applied to identify disease tolerance in other species of trees that are currently being threatened by a range of tree pests and pathogens.”

The research was carried out by a team based at the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in the Department of Biology at York, U.K., together with other academic institutions.

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.