British Ash trees are now safe, in terms of resistance, from the deadly Ash Dieback — a fungal disesase that has already ravaged millions of Ash trees across Europe.
The findings from a latest study follow the successful decoding of the tree’s genome by researchers at the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). The team is hoping that the unraveled genetic sequence of the Ash tree will help in fighting the Ash Dieback effectively.
The research was published in the journal Nature.
Commenting on the significance of the genome decoding, project leader Richard Buggs from QMUL’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences said Ash tree genome sequence has laid foundations for accelerated breeding of trees that are resistant to Ash Dieback.
The Ash tree genome analysis threw up many surprises and it showed that a quarter of its genes are unique. Called orphan genes, they were not found in the ten other plants whose genomes were sequenced.
“Orphan genes present a fascinating evolutionary conundrum as we have no idea how they evolved,” Buggs said.
Ash Tree Beetle Threat
The Ash tree genome analysis will also come handy in containing the spread of beetle Emerald Ash Borer, which has damaged millions of Ash trees in North America.
The disease resistant genome was benchmarked from Denmark, which had a few Ash trees that resisted the fungus. The concern over fungal diseases on Ash trees is understandable, as Ash trees enjoy a lot of cultural significance. It is also one of the commonest trees in Britain, where thousands of species ranging from wildflowers to butterflies have built up their ecosystem. Ash timber is also valuable in making tools sports goods including hockey sticks.
Living Ash Project
In making British Ash trees more resilient, a government funded scheme called The Living Ash Project is already on, and is examining Ash trees to select resistant specimens.
The new genetic revelations have come as a shot in the arm for this project. It will also help in thwarting the campaign that a “double whammy” is in the offing with of Ash Dieback and Emerald Ash Borer set to wipe out Ash trees across Europe.
However, Buggs cautioned that trees with resistance to Ash Dieback may still produce fewer chemicals that should fight off insects like Emerald Ash Borer. He urged the project leaders to breed tougher trees and proceed carefully.
Ian Bancroft, a professor at the University of York and a research team member, observed that Ash Dieback disease has spread across Europe in less than 10 years, and said that there is an urgency.
Allan Downie, a professor at the John Innes Centre, said the new study marks significant progress in understanding Ash Dieback.
However, no immediate cure is in sight for Ash Dieback, which is spreading through the wind after originating from imported infected saplings.
In July, the U.K government’s climate change advisers warned that new diseases and pests will be invading the country from the escalating temperatures and called for urgent research to suggest remedies.
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