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Ash tree disease in the spotlight

University scientists are to deliver urgent research into a disease that is devastating the common ash tree.

Edinburgh bioscientists are using new DNA technologies to reveal the blueprint of the ash dieback fungus.

This will help to pinpoint its origins and why it is so devastating.

They will also identify genes in the ash tree that seek to resist the fungal attack.

Their work forms part of a new £2.4 million initiative to research ash dieback in the UK. It will help to fight the fungus and inform the replacement of lost trees.

Forest epidemic

Ash dieback disease became an urgent problem in the UK in summer 2012, when the first cases of an epidemic sweeping Europe were found in the UK.

The fungus is now known to be present in 391 sites in the UK, with 170 in established woodlands.

To combat the disease, foresters need to know how it spreads, why it is so dangerous to trees, and whether any ash trees are naturally resistant.

The new research, already under way in Edinburgh, is seeking to expose weaknesses in the fungus and identify resistance in the ash.

Crowdsourcing science

Only by understanding the nature of this fungus can we hope to tackle and control its spread.

Dr Mark BlaxterGenePool Genomics Facility, School of Biological Sciences

Scientists at Edinburgh’s Gene Pool Genomics Facility have already analysed what was a mysterious organism, determining the complete DNA code of the fungus in a matter of weeks.

All the information gathered is being made public on the internet as soon as possible, so that scientists anywhere can join in tackling ash dieback.

This crowdsourcing is a new way of doing research that scientists hope will be a model for the future.

Project partners

The consortium, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, is led by the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

Also taking part are the Sainsbury Laboratory, East Malling Research, the Universities of Copenhagen and Exeter, The Genome Analysis Centre, the Food and Environment Research Agency, Forest Research, and the Norwegian Forest and Landscape Institute.

The research will also complement a project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council at Queen Mary University of London to decipher the ash tree’s genetic code.

The University's investment in DNA technology makes a very rapid response to this problem possible. We hope that our efforts can help stop the spread of this deadly plant disease.

Dr Mark BlaxterGenePool Genomics Facility, School of Biological Sciences