A team of researchers used genomic sequencing to identify genes that might help ash trees fight a deadly disease that is rapidly killing European tree populations. The team discovered that trees in the United Kingdom might be better off than other European trees. The findings may lead to the development of disease resistant ash tree varieties. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Nature.
Ash dieback is an infectious disease caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. The fungus has already wiped out ash tree populations throughout Europe. The disease is fatal and scientists have yet to find a cure or preventative. The only trees that survive are ones with a natural resistance to the fungus but these trees are rare. Researchers are concerned because ash dieback has already claimed the majority of ash trees in Poland. The loss of ash trees could have unforeseen consequences on local ecosystems, prompting research teams to begin developing conservation plans.
Researchers from the University of York and the Queen Mary University of London collaborated to compare the genomes of ash trees from different parts of Europe. The team used data from genomic sequencing to identify genetic markers that are associated with resistance to ash dieback. The researchers found that ash trees in the United Kingdom were more likely to have these markers and may be overall more resistant to the fungus. The team doesn’t know if these trees developed a resistance after being exposed to H. fraxineus or if the disease tolerance is innate.
The team’s findings should aid conservation efforts since researchers will be able to use genetic markers to identify the most vulnerable ash tree populations. The same information can be used to breed trees that are naturally resistant to ash dieback. The results of the study also suggest that ash trees in the United Kingdom might have better disease tolerance. As the fungus continues to spread, researchers are working hard to develop plans for managing the epidemic.
Sollars et al. Genome sequence and genetic diversity of European ash trees. Nature (2016).