Genetic Resistance to Devastating Ash Tree Disease Discovered – and It Could Help Save the Species
Scientists have discovered a genetic basis to resistance against ash tree dieback, a devastating fungal infection that is predicted to kill over half of the ash trees in the region, and it could open up new possibilities to save the species.
The invasive fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus has spread throughout Europe's ash populations but is especially dire in the UK, killing between 70 and 95 percent of ash trees that the fungus affects, reports The Independent. It was first recorded in the UK in 2012 and currently threatens 70 million trees, which could cost the economy £15 billion, according to a study published this year. Invasive species are so problematic that members of Parliament have said that it would require a "citizen army" to battle invasive species threatening the environment, reported The Guardian just last month.
"There is no cure for ash dieback and it threatens to kill over half of the 90 million ash trees in the UK. This will have huge impacts on the British landscape. Our new findings of the genetic basis of natural resistance found in a small minority of British ash trees help us to predict how ash populations will evolve under ash dieback," said Richard Buggs, senior research leader in plant health at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
"While many ash trees will die, our findings are encouraging from a long-term perspective and reassure us that ash woodlands will one day flourish again."
Writing in Nature Ecology and Evolution, researchers from Queen Mary University of London and the Royal Botanic Gardens collected samples from ash trees in a screening trial that represented 150,000 trees across 14 sites in South East England, making up a total of 31 DNA pools. They then used a rapid approach to screen for resistant genes in DNA from more than 1,250 ash trees to find inherited genes associated with resistance in separate pools of both for diseased and unaffected trees. Resistance was shown to be controlled by multiple genes across 3,000 locations in DNA, reports the BBC.
"We found that the genetics behind ash dieback resistance resembled other characteristics like human height, where the trait is controlled by many different genes working together, rather than one specific gene," said study author and Queen Mary University of London professor Richard Nichols.
"Now we have established which genes are important for resistance we can predict which trees will survive ash dieback. This will help identify susceptible trees that need to be removed from woodlands, and provide the foundations for breeding more resistant trees in future."
The researchers were also able to predict tree health with over 90 percent accuracy. The discovery will not save trees that are currently dying, but it could be used to replace dead and dying ones in the forest through either natural regeneration or selective breeding.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jessica Corbett
With temperatures across the globe — and particularly in the Arctic — rising due to lackluster efforts to address the human-caused climate crisis, one of the coldest towns on Earth is throwing its hat in the ring to host the 2032 Summer Olympics.
- Winter Sports Enthusiasts Call for Action on Climate Change ›
- Rising Temperatures Imperil Winter Sports Industry ›
A tornado tore through a city north of Birmingham, Alabama, Monday night, killing one person and injuring at least 30.
- Tornadoes and Climate Change: What Does the Science Say ... ›
- Tornadoes Hit Unusually Wide Swaths of U.S., Alarming Climate ... ›
- 23 Dead as Tornado Pummels Lee County, AL in Further Sign ... ›
By David Konisky
On his first day in office President Joe Biden started signing executive orders to reverse Trump administration policies. One sweeping directive calls for stronger action to protect public health and the environment and hold polluters accountable, including those who "disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities."
Michael S. Regan, President Biden's nominee to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, grew up near a coal-burning power plant in North Carolina and has pledged to "enact an environmental justice framework that empowers people in all communities." NCDEQ
- Report Urges Biden to Reverse Trump's Environmental Rollbacks ›
- US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- Biden Faces Pressure to Tackle 'Unfunded' Toxic Waste Sites ... ›
By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.