Since the first case of Ash Dieback was confirmed in 2012 over 500 UK sites have been infected according to statistics from the Forestry Commission. However, recent developments in the fight against the disease comes in the form of a genetically resistant strain of the tree.
A joint project is underway by the John Innes Centre, The Genome Analysis centre and the Sainsbury Laboratory, all based in Norkfolk, to sequence the genome of a type of Ash tree with resistance to the deadly fungal disease that is Ash Dieback. Already a batch from the latest research has uncovered a possible winner in the name of “tree 35”. The strain from Denmark, which was originally bred almost 100 years ago, has shown a strong ability to tolerate the killer fungus. In a recent epidemic virtually all its Danish relatives were wiped out after developing Ash Dieback, whereas this strain remained largely untouched.
Dr Mario Caccamo from the Genome Analysis centre said, “Speed is important to the research so that all those studying the epidemic can start to look for clues to tackle it”. Since the announcement of the discovery of the UK’s first [‘ash dieback’?] spore producing mushrooms on 2 June 2013 by Dr Anne Edwards of the John Innes centre pressure has increased for a means to tack;e the disease. This discovery confirms that spores that cause the Ash Dieback infection are now being produced within the UK and not just being transported across on tree stock from mainland European nurseries or being blown over by the wind.
The new genetically resitant species could become incorporated into the government’s plans to try to tackle Ash Dieback and be part of a breeding programme to encourage more resistant trees.
Although the findings have provided a new and exciting step in the right direction for the long-term prospects of the Ash tree in this country, it would be too simplistic to think that we could just plant this variety as the only solution. In doing this we would leave ourselves with a narrow genetic base vulnerable to future diseases. Futhermore, given that there is no vaccination or remedy against the Ash Dieback disease, the UK’s 80m population of Ash is currently all under threat.