Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Genetic Resistance to Devastating Ash Tree Disease Discovered – and It Could Help Save the Species

Science
Genetic Resistance to Devastating Ash Tree Disease Discovered – and It Could Help Save the Species
Ash dieback is seen infecting a European ash (Fraxinus excelsior) in Bottomcraig, Scotland, UK on Aug. 10, 2016. nz_willowherb / Flickr

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.

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches on its maiden test flight from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on February 6, 2018. Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images

Three men are paying $55 million each to travel to space, the AP reported.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

#SaveSalla is a campaign launched by a Finnish community in partnership with the youth climate movement Fridays for Future. www.savesalla.org

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.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A deadly tornado touched down near the city of Fultondale, Alabama on Jan. 25, 2021. Justin1569 / Wikipedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

A tornado tore through a city north of Birmingham, Alabama, Monday night, killing one person and injuring at least 30.

Read More Show Less
An empty school bus by a field of chemical plants in "Cancer Alley," one of the most polluted areas of the U.S. that stretches from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, where oil refineries and petrochemical plants reside alongside suburban homes. Giles Clarke / Getty Images

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."

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

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.

Read More Show Less