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There is a small hope that unique British races of the species—isolated from continental Europe 8,500 years ago—may prove unusually resistant to the blight.

During the 19th century, as global trade increased exponentially, so did the incidence of tree blights. In the early 20th century, after rich countries instituted biosecurity regimes, the growth rates slowed, and in America, at least until recently, remained fairly linear. But in Europe, around 1960, the infection rate picked up, very likely due to the trade-boosting effect of economic integration. This not only spread diseases around the continent itself. It also made the law-abiding countries of northern Europe, such as Britain, susceptible to the sloppier customs regimes of the continent’s southern fringe.

http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21580459-arboreal-confirmation-britain-european-country-european-problems-unquiet-woods?fsrc=rss|btn

Scientists are now breeding the two ash trees together in the hope that they will be able to create a new generation of saplings able to survive infection by the Chalara fraxinea fungus, which causes ash dieback.

Experts have found two trees – known as tree 35 and tree 18 – among Denmark’s ruined woodland that show the highest levels of resistance to the fungus ever seen.

British scientists have teamed up with Danish researchers in a bid to find the genes responsible for protecting these plants from ash dieback.

They hope to develop a test that will allow them to find similar trees in Britain’s woodland so they can begin breeding new saplings to replace those that die as a result of the fungus.

While other ash trees in the plot withered and died as the fungus slowly spread along their branches and through their leaves, the plants grown from tree 35 and tree 18 remained strong and healthy.

The pair also were found to be a viable breeding pair – with tree 35 being predominantly female and tree 18 being predominantly male.

The main objective of the project was to heighten biosecurity efforts against by developing a method based on a portable deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing machine that can diagnose ash dieback within 30 minutes.
The project was supported under the EU’s ‘Food, agriculture and fisheries, and biotechnology’ (KBBE) programme to the tune of EUR 3 million.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-04-ash-dieback-fungus.html#jCp

The fast-track research funding has been awarded to gather an in-depth understanding of the ash dieback fungus and to provide genetic clues about some ash trees’ natural resistance to attack. Computer models will also be built to develop monitoring plans for the distribution and spread of the fungus, as well as charting how the disease might progress. This knowledge will help to fight the fungus and replace lost trees with those more able to survive.

Professor Sarah Gurr from Biosciences is leading the University of Exeter group in the Nornex consortium that has been awarded the funding. The group includes Prof Murray Grant, Dr Chris Thornton, Dr David Studholme, Professor Gero Steinberg and Professor Nick Talbot. The consortium brings together tree health and forestry specialists with scientists working with state-of-the-art genetic sequencing, biological data and imaging technologies to investigate the molecular and cellular basis of interactions between the fungus and ash trees.

Led by Professor Allan Downie at the John Innes Centre (JIC), the consortium includes: the University of Exeter, The Sainsbury Laboratory, East Malling Research, The Genepool at the University of Edinburgh, The Genome Analysis Centre, the Food and Environment Research Agency, Forest Research, the University of Copenhagen and the Norwegian Forest and Landscape Institute. The research will also complement a project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) at Queen Mary University of London to decipher the ash tree’s genetic code.

BBSRC Chief Executive Professor Douglas Kell said: “This agile funding response will ensure we improve our understanding of this devastating tree disease as quickly as possible. Little is known about the fungus, why it is so aggressive, or its interactions with the trees that it attacks. This prevents effective control strategies

Based on a literature survey, we provide an overview of the present knowledge on ash dieback, identify practical recommendations and point out research needs. The observation of relatively resistant individual ash trees (although at very low frequency) calls for a rapid germplasm collection effort to establish a breeding program for resistance or tolerance to the disease. Ash trees that appear to be tolerant to the pathogen should not be felled.

Given that the pathogen does not form propagules on wood, and given the importance of deadwood for biodiversity conservation, dead and dying ash trees should be left in the forest.

Conservation biologists, landscape managers, restoration ecologists, social scientists and tree geneticists need to engage with forest pathologists and the various stakeholders throughout the distributional range of F. excelsior so as to tackle this pressing conservation challenge.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320712003813

The crisis in Britain’s ash forests came as a shock to public and politicians. But is it a vision of the future for our woodlands? Stressed by climate change and vulnerable to pests and diseases crossing the English Channel the prospects seem grim.

In a special edition of Costing the Earth Tom Heap asks what our forests will look like in the future. Is there anything we can do to stem the flow of disease, can our native trees be made more resilient or should we consider planting a wider range of trees? Tom visits Lithuania where ash dieback disease first came to attention in Europe to find out how they’ve come to terms with new threats to their forests and meets the experts and enthusiasts with a fresh approach to protecting our forests.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p9dcp

Action against the deadly fungus threatening the UK’s ash trees was delayed by a lack of qualified plant pathologists, MPs were told on Tuesday. Government scientists being questioned by parliament’s environment committee also said border controls against the rising number of invasive plant pests were not working, while committee chair Anne McIntosh said it was “staggering” that the amount of imported firewood – a potential infection risk – was unknown.

The Forestry Commission recommended in July 2011 that ash trees should only be imported from areas free of the Chalara fraxinea fungus, but an import ban was only imposed in October 2012. At least 136 of the 291 infected sites now identified in the UK resulted from imported trees.

In November, Prof James Brown, president of the British Society of Plant Pathology, told the Guardian the job losses in plant science were “severe”. He said: “Britain is not producing graduates with the expertise needed to identify and control plant diseases in our farms and woodlands.”

a key measure put forward in the action plan – developing strains of ash trees that are naturally resistant to Chalara – would take 10 years or more to bear fruit.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/dec/11/ash-dieback-plant-scientists-environment-committee

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