New genetics project could help save the ash tree
21 December 2012
Scientists funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) plan to decode the ash tree's entire genetic sequence in the hope of stopping Britain's trees from being completely devastated by the Chalara ash dieback fungal disease.
A small percentage of ash trees in Denmark are showing some resistance to the fungus. By decoding the tree's genetic sequence, scientists will take a crucial first step towards identifying the genes that confer this resistance.
Together with field trials and breeding programmes, this knowledge will help produce a more resilient strain of the tree.
Project leader Dr Richard Buggs, from Queen Mary, University of London, said, "Sequencing the ash genome is a foundational step towards discovering the genetic basis of resistance to ash dieback: the future of ash trees in Britain may depend on this. At Queen Mary, University of London we will build on our experience of sequencing the birch genome to optimise this ash genome project."
The researchers expect to have a first draft of the tree's entire genetic sequence by August 2013. Once sequencing is complete, they plan to make it publicly available for use by other researchers.
NERC's Chief Executive, Professor Duncan Wingham, said, "The Natural Environment Research Council is making an important contribution to tackling the country's ash dieback crisis. I'm confident this project will be a huge step forward towards solving this problem."
So far, ash dieback has been found at almost 300 places across the country. But with ash the third most abundant broadleaf species in Britain's woodlands, 80 million trees are at risk. The loss of Britain's ash population would pose a serious threat to the plants and animals that depend on the trees for survival.
Ash trees across the rest of Europe have already been ravaged by ash dieback, and it's recently become clear that the disease is already too widespread to be eliminated from Britain.
The most visible signs that a tree is infected with the Chalara fraxinea fungus are bleeding sores and cankers on the bark and discolouration of the underlying sapwood.
The £50,000 NERC-funded project is scheduled to start in January 2013.
Dr Buggs will work with Dr Steve Lee, programme group manager for genetic improvement at Forest Research. The researchers will use genomic services company Eurofins MWG Operon to decode the ash tree's genetic sequence. They will collaborate with genomics software company CLC bio to analyse the data generated.
NERC Press Office
Natural Environment Research Council
Polaris House, North Star Avenue
Swindon, SN2 1EU
Tel: 01793 411561
Mob: 07917 557215
Queen Mary, University of London press office
Tel: 0207 882 7927
Authors' contact details:
Dr Richard Buggs
Queen Mary, University of London
Tel: 0207 882 3058
Mob: 07729 920401
1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing world-class research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. It coordinates some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, food security, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on earth, and much more. NERC receives around £300m a year from the government's science budget, which it uses to fund research and training in universities and its own research centres.
2. Queen Mary, University of London is one of the UK's leading research-focused higher education institutions with some 16,900 undergraduate and postgraduate students. Amongst the largest of the colleges of the University of London, Queen Mary is a member of the Russell Group, which represents the 24 leading universities in the UK. Queen Mary's 3,800 staff deliver world class degree programmes and research across 21 academic departments and institutes, within three sectors: Science & Engineering; Humanities, Social Sciences & Laws; and the School of Medicine & Dentistry.
Queen Mary is ranked 11th in the UK according to the Guardian analysis of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, and has been described as "the biggest star among the research-intensive institutions" by the Times Higher Education. The College has a strong international reputation, with around 20 per cent of students coming from over 100 countries. Queen Mary has an annual turnover of £300m, research income worth £70m, and generates employment and output worth £600m to the UK economy each year. The College is unique amongst London's universities in being able to offer a completely integrated residential campus, with a 2,000-bed award-winning Student Village on its Mile End campus.
3. Eurofins Scientific is the world leader in food and pharmaceutical products testing. It is also number one in the world in the field of environmental laboratory services and one of the global market leaders in agroscience, genomics and central laboratory services. With over 12,500 staff in more than 170 laboratories across 33 countries, Eurofins offers a portfolio of over 100,000 reliable analytical methods for evaluating the safety, identity, composition, authenticity, origin and purity of biological substances and products. The Group provides its customers with high-quality services, accurate results on time and expert advice by its highly qualified staff.
Eurofins is committed to pursuing its dynamic growth strategy by expanding both its technology portfolio and its geographic reach. Through R&D and acquisitions, the Group draws on the latest developments in the field of biotechnology and analytical chemistry to offer its clients unique analytical solutions and the most comprehensive range of testing methods. As one of the most innovative and quality oriented international players in its industry, Eurofins is ideally positioned to support its clients' increasingly stringent quality and safety standards and the expanding demands of regulatory authorities around the world.
Press release: 32/12
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