Scientists secure grant to seek cure for horse chestnut canker

Funding has been agreed to continue research on developing control measures for the bleeding canker disease that has hit half of the 500,000 horse chestnut trees in the British Isles.

Dr Glynn Percival of the Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory and Dr Robert Jackson from the University of Reading, leading experts on Aesculus hippocastanum and its pests and diseases, were awarded a PhD studentship worth £60,000.

They said: "The key point that seems to have been missed is that when trees are infected they either die or recover with no long-term ill effects. So why is it that some trees respond positively after infection?"

Percival's research has focused on optimising tree health with appropriate irrigation, soil decompaction, mulching, fertilisation and pest control to help trees respond to bleeding canker. He added: "If growing conditions are optimal and any forms of stress are removed then recovery rates are far higher than non-treated trees."

Earlier this year Jackson decoded the genetic blueprint of the bacterial disease Pseudomonas syringae pv. aesculi, the cause of the horse chestnut tree population decline. The new research will focus on finding a way of killing the bacterium using a phage or virus. Further work will attempt to identify how the bacterium is spread.

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