A new breakthrough on Ash Dieback

Published 26th Apr 2016

A new breakthrough on Ash Dieback: News from the HTA

Ash Dieback

[HTA NEWS RELEASE, 22.04.16] UK scientists have identified the country’s first ash tree that shows tolerance to ash dieback, raising the possibility of using selective breeding to develop strains of trees that are tolerant to the disease.

The findings, which could help ensure ash trees will thrive in UK woodlands, have today (22 April) been published in a report co-funded by Defra and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Ash dieback is spreading throughout the UK and, in one woodland in Norfolk, a great number of trees are infected. However, there are exceptions which demonstrate very low levels of infection by the ash dieback fungus and here researchers have identified one tree, nicknamed ‘Betty’, as having a strong tolerance to the disease.

The breakthrough comes after researchers from the government-backed Nornex project, led by the John Innes Centre in Norfolk, published the world-leading research report into ash dieback disease.

The team compared the genetics of trees with different levels of tolerance to ash dieback disease. From there, they developed three genetic markers which enabled them to predict whether or not a tree is likely to be tolerant to the disease – even whether it is likely to be ‘mildly’ or ‘strongly’ tolerant. Betty, they discovered, was predicted to show strong tolerance.

Defra spokesperson in the Lords, Lord Gardiner, unveiled the latest findings at the John Innes Centre in Norfolk today. He said:

“This Government has invested more than any other country in research on ash dieback, and today’s breakthrough is an excellent example of how the UK’s cutting-edge science is leading the way to help support tree health. 

“We want to guarantee the graceful ash tree continues to have a place in our environment for centuries to come and this vital work is a major step towards ensuring just that.”

The Nornex report also indicates that the three genetic markers are more prevalent in UK ash trees than in those from some other countries. Reasons for this are as yet unknown but this could be taken into consideration for any future tree development programmes. 

UK Chief Plant Health Officer, Nicola Spence, added:

“This unprecedented work conducted by British scientists has uncovered an exciting development in tree health.

“It paves the way for tackling this destructive disease and will help ensure that Britain’s stock of ash trees, and its countryside, remains resilient against pests and disease in the future.”

The full Nornex Project Report can be found here.Research has been funded by Defra in partnership with the BIotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

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