New genetic clues will identify ash dieback-resistant trees

Researchers have identified the first genetic clues that could help identify and breed trees tolerant to ash dieback disease (Chalara fraxinea).

Branch infected with ash dieback - image:Forestry Commission
Branch infected with ash dieback - image:Forestry Commission

Scientists from the University of York analysed data generated by the John Innes Centre (JIC) and the Genome Analysis Centre (GAC) from around 180 Danish trees whose susceptibility to ash dieback has been measured by scientists at the University of Copenhagen.

Professor Ian Bancroft from the University of York said: "Some Danish trees are known to withstand the disease and we have the first data showing that activity in some genes seems to be particularly important for this."

One of the most resistant Danish trees is a strain called Tree 35. Using data generated by the GAC, JIC senior scientist Dr Martin Trick catalogued all the genes expressed in this strain during the first flush of growth. He then used this as a reference from which to catalogue genetic variation among the 180 Danish trees already scored for disease resistance.

"From a global search of all the many thousands of genes, we can now start to concentrate our research effort on around a dozen that seem to be particularly important," he said.

Bancroft added: "We are now at the stage of being able to say that if specific genes in a certain tree are expressing at particular levels, that tree is likely to be less susceptible to ash dieback. We expect soon to be able to identify the genes that control the expression of these marker genes."

The next steps will be to confirm that these markers are good predictors of disease susceptibility in the field and to start testing whether UK trees now in the path of the disease show similar genetic patterns associated with low susceptibility.


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